Finnish Elections: clearing the deck ahead of the Finnish EU Presidency

by Astrid Andersson

With the Finnish Presidency just around the corner, we look back at the unique results of the Finnish Parliamentary elections held on 14 April last.

The results were indeed rather exceptional as no party secured more than 20% of votes, a result not seen in the country for more than a century. Ahead of the elections, three parties were seen to be neck-to-neck. The party arriving in first place were the Social Democrats (SDP) with 17.7% of the votes, securing 40 seats, the first time since 1999 that the SDP has been the largest party in Finland. The second place was secured by the far-right, Finns Party. The Finns party received 17.5% of votes which gives them 39 seats in Parliament. Jussi Halla-aho, the leader of the Finns Party, has to be considered as the biggest winner of these elections, as he attracted more than 30 000 new voters. The third party in the race was the National Coalition party (NCP) with 17%.

On the other end of the spectrum the current prime minister’s party, the Centre party, can be disappointed by the result of the elections as they received only 13.8% support, a loss of 13 seats and their all-time lowest result. One of the reasons the Centre party saw their popularity drop were the strict austerity policies they introduced which aim to bring the efficiency of the private sector to government. Another reason for the drop in the sitting government’s popularity was the political difficulties their health and social care bill encountered and that forced the dissolution of the governing coalition between the Centre party and the NCP.

Commentators consider the election results as an illustration of the increased fragmentation of Finnish politics. The outcome of these elections was always likely to create problems when the parties began forming coalitions commanding a majority in Parliament, as the parties’ red lines are hard to reconcile.

Recent developments have now seen the Social Democrats opt for a major coalition with four Finnish parties: the Centre Party as their main coalition ally in addition to the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party. On 6 June, their leader, Antti Rinne, became the Prime Minister. This political reorientation is certainly noteworthy for a country, whose plans for the EU Presidency were so certain 6-months ago. Finland now finds itself in a situation where many of its EU positions need to be reworked in such a short time.

The results of the elections have also impacted the Finnish pick for the EU Commissioner, which usually goes to the biggest party in government, with Jutta Urpilainen of the Social Democrats being put forward as the next Commissioner. She is likely to become the first female Commissioner since the country joined the European Union in 1995.