Finnish elections see the left gain some ground, but winners SDP only 1 seat above runners-up Finns party
Kai Keski-Korhonen on the Finnish parliamentary elections. Read how a 5 party Social Democrat led coalition is possible, the likely impact on the Finish Presidency of the European Council from 1 July, and who is tipped to become Finland’s first female EU Commissioner.
Finland went to the polls on Sunday 14 April with people clearly unsatisfied with the 3-party coalition government - Center Party (CP)-National Coalition party (NCP)-Blue Future (BF, breakaway from the Finns Party (FP) in 2017). The Social democrats (SDP) with 40 seats out of the 200 gained 6 seats and went up 1.2% points from previous elections of 2015, but stayed at only 17,7% support. For the first time in recent history, the biggest party secured less than 20% support. As forecasted, the BF was wiped out, failing to get a single seat, including their leader Sampo Terho. The Center Party, led by Prime Minister Sipilä, also took much of the blame by getting only 31 seats, losing 18 and a whopping 1/3 drop in number of their voters. The worst result for the party in 100 years. The Coalition Party lost much less than expected with a 1,2% drop in support, while gaining a seat.
The biggest surprise, besides the SDP’s lower than expected support, was how well the populist-nationalist FP did with 39 seats and 17,5%, down slightly in support but gaining a seat. This was a great result for them, especially after the breakup of 2017 which left half of their MPs in the newly formed BF, (which remained in government after the break-up - supporting government policy and enjoying ministerial benefits) and saw their support at the time drop down to 8-9%. Elsewhere, the Left party gained 4 seats to go up to 16, and the Greens gained 5 to end up with 20. So even without counting the Greens into the left block there was a gain of 10 seats from the previous elections
Now what does this eventually mean in terms of forming a government? It will most likely be very difficult, due to a lack of a clear majority for any obvious coalition and the weak position of the SDP with their marginal win over FP. Since PM Sipilä announced he was standing down as leader of the Center Party it makes it possible for SDP Rinne, who did not get along with Sipilä and his very open market policies, to get in talks with them as well, even if they have initially said they will voluntarily stay in opposition. Reversing their view would, however, give the SDP another option over a politically difficult collaboration with the NCP, who have featured in each government since 1987, except for 2003-2007. The NCP have also already expressed that raising income taxes is a no-go area for them and as the Left party and the NCP do not go well together, the combination would be more difficult to form. It would probably require the Christian Democrats to join, which again is not a favourite choice for the SDP. With Gthe reens and the RKP (Swedish National Party (not to be confused with the SNP in Scotland)) it would not hold a big majority (113 of 200, even less if CD not in). A possible 5 party coalition with SDP, CP, Greens, Left and RKP would still only have a majority of 17, but would fit SDP politically much better, as we would expect CP to move back towards the centre from their previous more market liberal stances.
We will now have to wait and see what happens next. The key parties in forming a grand coalition are the CP and the NCP, who can make life very difficult for the SDP by saying they are not willing to negotiate and they could be able to set strict terms for their participation and force Rinne to give in on SDP key policy areas. First, he of all needs to be nominated to form the government on 26 April after the Parliament begins its new term the day before the official negotiations begin. In practice the parties are already negotiating, and some indications show that both the NCP and the CP remain possible partners.
Rinne will ask parties a set of questions and based on those answers the process will continue into the actual negotiations, which could take quite some time, and his initial timetable of forming a government by 27 May is ambitious. Long negotiations dragging into June would not be great for the upcoming EU Presidency of Finland, even if the priorities have been formulated in cross-party negotiations beforehand. On 1 July when they take the reins from Romania people expect them to be efficient and able as they have been before. From a civil servant point of view there should be no problems as many have been with the previous 2006 Presidency, and even back in 1999, but there is the possibility of having ministers chairing the Council without ever having been to a meeting there. Politically it also leaves very little time to fine tune the agenda and priorities, but with the agenda they will be inheriting there isn’t much to be expected anyway. So most likely it will be business as usual.
To further speculate, there is a possibility for Finland nominating its first woman as EU Commissioner with Jutta Urpilainen, former leader of SDP and Finance minister, being a strong candidate for the job.
Kai Keski-Korhonen is an advisor at LP Brussels. For many years he worked in the European Parliament and at the UK Perm Rep. His main competences included Transport, Internal Market, Telecoms, Environment, Energy and many other areas. Working inside two of the main EU institutions has given him deep insight into the decision making processes of the EU and an extended contact network throughout Brussels. He now advises some of the world’s leading companies and organisations, splitting his time between Helsinki and Brussels. He writes in a personal capacity.