Parliament 3

Finnish Politics Gets a Facelift

This weekend was full of excitement for political junkies, with three national parties choosing a new leader, and plenty of new policy directions taken by four.

 

But what business impact might it have? We have Arto Virtanen from Hill & Knowlton Strategies and our own Kimmo Collander here to let you know what it might mean to you and your company.

 

We lead off with perhaps the most exciting event of the weekend: the Kokoomus party congress in Lappeenranta, where the sitting Finance Minister was up against an internal leadership challenge.

 

National Coalition Party (Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet)

 

There were three candidates for the leadership of the party: the incumbent Finance Minister, Alexander Stubb, Interior Minister Petteri Orpo, and the freshest face in politics, MP Elina Lepomäki.

 

Of the three, Lepomäki represented the party’s market liberal wing, while Stubb, who had started his chairmanship closer to Lepomäki, had moved towards Orpo’s more interventionist position during the campaign. Orpo mainly avoided risks during the campaign, and kept his message focused on the direction of the party rather than the country, representing a more traditional leader with the capability to reconnect with voters.

 

Orpo won with 55% support in the second round of voting, but he is left with a challenge: he needs to build a new coalition inside the party before the April municipal elections, which will act as a stepping stone towards the general elections.

 

What happens next? Orpo will shuffle his party’s cabinet seats, and take the post of Finance Minister. Due to his image as an easy man to work with, the government should continue to function as usual. Overall, Orpo’s win should increase stability in Finnish politics, as calming his restless party will give the government room to maneuver with the upcoming reforms.

 

Centre Party (Keskusta/Centern)

 

The leading party of the government coalition held its congress in Seinäjoki, where 3,000 delegates and observers confirmed that Prime Minister Juha Sipilä will continue as party leader. He and Minister of Social Services Juha Rehula are the only familiar names at the top of the party, with new vice-chairs Katri Kulmuni and Antti Kurvinen as well as new Party Secretary Jouni Ovaska each being under 30 years-of-age.

 

Former PM Matti Vanhanen was nominated as the party’s candidate for President in the 2018 election, and he stated his clear opposition to Finland joining NATO in the foreseeable future, going one step further by hoping that Sweden would also remain out of NATO in the interest of regional stability. At the same time, he wants Finland to keep the option of joining the alliance after a referendum, a message that Sipilä echoed.

 

Sipilä’s government continues to push for regional administrative reform, which is likely to take shape soon. Many speakers pointed out the importance of the “Competitiveness Pact” that was finalized on the first day of the congress, but also on the agenda were energy issues, and of course, NATO.

 

Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset/Sannfinländare)

 

The congress of the third government party passed quietly. While the party has lost half of its public support based on current polling, Foreign Minister Timo Soini is still the undisputed leader. He clearly distanced himself from some government decisions, emphasizing his role as the key player in the field of foreign policy, and in particular his relationship with President Sauli Niinistö.

 

During the session where members could propose questions for ministers, Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö was asked about NATO and the coming defence procurements, and he chose not to take a clear stand on the issues.

 

All in all, the Finns Party didn’t pursue the public’s attention, focusing instead on going through the political situation amongst themselves. One could describe their strategy as “duck and cover.”

 

Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto/Vänsterförbundet)

 

At their weekend congress in Oulu, first-term MP Li Andersson was confirmed as the new party leader, replacing long-time leader Paavo Arhinmäki. Andersson, the leader of the party’s youth wing, is known to be a good debater, and showed her electability with a big result in the last European Parliament elections.

 

Both the Left Alliance and the larger Social Democratic Party (SDP) are strongly against NATO membership, an issue that could divide the opposition prior to the presidential elections that are due in 2018. Andersson made a strong speech against the government’s so-called “Competitiveness Pact”, saying it will go down in history as weakening the status of workers in Finland. She also suggested an experiment with six-hour working days be conducted in the future, following a similar initiative in Sweden.

 

Swedish People’s Party (Svenska folkspartiet/Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue)

 

The Swedish People’s Party were in Turku (or Åbo) this weekend to choose a new leader as well, hoping to build enthusiasm within the party in the lead-up to the next elections. The SFP had three candidates going into the election: MP and former Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson, MP Anders Adlercreutz, and youth chairman Ida Schauman. Henriksson was the favorite throughout the process, and as an experienced politician with a ministerial background, she won the leadership with the support of many senior figures within the party. Chosen as party vice-chairs were Anders Adlercreutz, Silja Borgardóttir Sandelin, and Nicke Wulff.

 

From a policy standpoint, the SFP also weighed in on the question of NATO, sharpening its position and making Finland’s membership by 2025 the official party line, a move that was supported by former Defence Minister Elisabeth Rehn in a speech to the delegates. The SFP is likely to return to government following the next parliamentary elections, and will continue its liberal view on most issues, both social and fiscal.

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Finland is slowly preparing for municipal and regional elections to be held in April 2017, marking a beginning to the coming election rollercoaster, with four elections coming between now and 2019. The lifespan of a Finnish party leader seems to be getting shorter, with both the electorate and party members showing little patience with their leaders.

 

Overall, there are quite a few new faces in Finnish politics after the last weekend, but no party leader represents a significant departure from the previous line. For the next year or two, at least, the government will be largely free to do as it pleases.

 

By Arto Virtanen, Hill & Knowlton Strategies; Kimmo Collander, Amcham Finland; and Matthew Wood, Amcham Finland.