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Finland election results — and what they mean for Europe

sipilaPhoto credit to Jari Laukkanen/Suomenmaa.

As expected, the liberal Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party) won the largest share of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Finland after a campaign dominated by Finland’s flagging economic recovery.finland flag

That means Juha Sipilä, a former telecommunications executive who entered Finnish politics just four years ago, will become the country’s next prime minister, and he will prioritize an agenda of economic reform that includes personal and business tax cuts, further budget-trimming and steps designed to increase the competitiveness of Finnish industry.


The Centre Party led Finland’s government most recently between 2003 and 2010 under former prime minister Matti Vanhanen, who also emphasized tax cuts and promoted innovation — Vanhanen’s government was the first in the world to introduce a legal right to broadband internet. Olli Rehn (pictured above), who from 2004 to 2014 became the European Commission’s chief official for economic and monetary policy, won a constituency in Helsinki to return to the Finnish parliament, where he’s expected to play a leading role in the new government — quite possibly as Finland’s next finance minister.

But the Centre Party’s narrow victory wasn’t the most convincing — it only defeated the governing center-right Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) by just over 3%. Another two parties, the far-right Perussuomalaiset (PS, Finns Party) and the center-left Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue (SDP, Social Democratic Party) weren’t far behind.


Each of Finland’s four major parties won between 17% and 21% of the vote, hardly a ringing endorsement for anything other than the traditional moderation and consensus that has marked past Finnish governments. For now, the Centre Party’s victory will end talk of Finland’s potential accession to NATO, a position that outgoing prime minister Alexander Stubb favored and that Sipilä (along with most Finns) opposes.

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RELATED: Who is Juha Sipilä?
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But it also means Sipilä’s government will almost certainly depend on the Finns Party in some form. Throughout the Finnish election campaign, that has caused trepidation throughout Europe for two reasons. First, the eurosceptic far right will now hold the balance of power in Finland, a scenario that’s becoming increasingly common in the Nordics as anti-EU nationalists continue to gain support throughout all of Europe. Second, because the Finns Party are opposed to future Greek bailouts, Finland’s new government could complicate efforts to reach a new deal on Greece’s financing that will allow it to remain in the eurozone.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Sunday’s vote was the strong showing of the Vihreä liitto (Green League), which gained five seats (for a total of 15) in the 200-member Eduskunta, the unicameral Finnish parliament.

Sipilä hopes to avoid the same unwieldy coalition that hampered the National Coalition-led government since 2011, first under Jyrki Katainen and under Stubb for the past 10 months after Katainen joined the European Commission (where he currently serves as vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness). Katainen was disappointed in his plan to enact deeper reforms, in part because he was forced to balance an unwieldy six-party coalition that included not only the center-right National Coalition, but the Social Democrats, the Green League and the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto).


Sipilä starts out with less than half the seats he needs for a coalition. If Sipilä includes the conservative Kristillisdemokraatit (Christian Democrats) and the Svenska folkpartiet i Finland (Swedish People’s Party), a small party devoted to the interests of Finland’s Swedish-speaking population, he’ll have just 63 seats.

Continue reading Finland election results — and what they mean for Europe

Who is Juha Sipilä? The man who wants to become CEO of Finland, Inc.


If the voters of Finland elect challenger Juha Sipilä as its next prime minister, the former telecommunications minister will have the iPhone to thank.finland flag

That’s because the Finnish economy was in recession in 2012 and 2013, and it registered only tepid growth last year. In part, it’s due to Nokia’s loss of market share. Once a synonym for state-of-the-art technology in mobile phones, the exponential rise of the iPhone in the past eight years left the Finnish champion reeling for new areas of growth and shedding jobs near the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

Notwithstanding plans for Nokia to merge with French telecoms equipment provider Alcatel announced last week, Nokia’s global dominance in mobile smartphones collapsed over the course of the four-year government of the center-right, liberal Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) while Samsung and Apple increasingly pushed Nokia out of the market. Nokia ultimately sold it devices and services business to Microsoft in 2013. Simultaneous woes have afflicted Finland’s once-thriving timber market.

So it’s not surprising that voters are poised to elect Sipilä as their next prime minister, a former telecommunications executive who aims to run Finland like a private-sector company.

There’s a sense that voters also want to punish the National Coalition. Even former prime minister Jyrki Katainen appeared to sense that when he stepped down last spring to take a position at the European Commission, where he currently serves as the Commission’s vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness. Katainen left it to his former European affairs minister, Alexander Stubb, to lead his party into the March 19 elections. Polls suggest that has become increasingly difficult over the course of the past 10 months since Stubb assumed the premiership.

A victory for Sipilä would return the Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party) back to power after a four-year hiatus in opposition. Sipilä came to politics only recently, elected for the first time in 2011 to the Eduskunta, Finland’s 200-member unicameral parliament after a successful career in the telecommunications  industry.  Continue reading Who is Juha Sipilä? The man who wants to become CEO of Finland, Inc.

Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government


Stefan Löfven should have savored Sunday night — as Sweden’s election results came in, his center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) emerged as the top vote-winner by an 8% margin, and Löfven is the overwhelming favorite to become Sweden’s next prime minister.Sweden

Monday morning was a different story.

Despite winning the election, the Social Democrats won just 31.2% of the vote, a relatively low total for the party that dominated Swedish government throughout much of the 20th century. In the last two elections, in 2006 and 2010, when outgoing prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt routed the Social Democrats, the party still won 35.0% and 30.7%, respectively.

The last time they won an election, under Göran Persson in 2002, the Social Democrats won 39.9% of the vote. The results from September 14, however, leave Löfven (pictured above) with just 113 seats in the 349-member Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.

sweden 2014If the big loser of the election was Reinfeldt’s center-right Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party), which lost 23 seats, the big winner was the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which gained 29 seats on a platform of limiting Sweden’s generous asylum policy that in 2014 is expected to welcome more than 100,000 refugees to the country, many from war-torn Syria and Iraq. It’s a point of pride for Reinfeldt, presumably, that he spent much of the campaign extolling the compassionate values of his government, even if those costs limited his ability to promise greater welfare spending.

The rest of Sweden’s parties all made relatively small gains or losses — no other party gained or lost more than five seats in total.

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Those dynamics, however, leave Löfven in an unenviable position. Though the Sweden Democrats have clearly made the greatest gains in this election, neither the Reinfeldt-led center-right nor the Löfven center-left are willing to bring the anti-immigrant party into government, despite the efforts of its boyish leader, Jimmie Åkesson, to moderate the party’s harder nationalist (and sometimes neo-nazi and xenophobic) edges. One marvels to wonder his well his party might have done had it not been dogged by scandals that forced eight candidates out of the race after news outlets revealed their racist online commentary.

A hung parliament — and no majority for Sweden’s left

But that’s left the Riksdag without a clear majority. After the 2010 elections, the Moderates and their three allies, which together constitute the Alliansen, formed a minority government with 172 seats. Unofficially, the Swedish Democrats often delivered enough votes for Reinfeldt to fill the three-vote gap that his government needed. Löfven cannot count on the unofficial support of Åkesson’s right-wingers. Moreover, after the stunning results for the Sweden Democrats, there are now 49 seats, not 20, that are politically untouchable.

Löfven’s most natural allies, the Miljöpartiet (Green Party), actually lost a seat, falling to 21 seats. Together, with 134 seats, that leaves the Red-Green coalition 41 seats short of a majority.


Continue reading Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government

Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency


Just three years after taking power as Finland’s prime minister, Jykri Katainen is set to step down both as leader of Finland’s center-right Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) and as prime minister later this month, following the Saturday leadership election of Alexander Stubb as the party’s new leader. finland flag

Though Katainen (pictured above) is just 42 years old, he’s been at the helm of the National Coalition Party for a decade. Katainen stunned Finland in April when he announced he was resigning, with an eye toward pursuing a top job in the European Union. At the time, everyone assumed he was angling to become Finland’s next commissioner within the European Union, replacing Olli Rehn, the influential vice president of the Commission and, since 2010, the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

Rehn previously served from 2004 to 2010 as commissioner for enlargement, and he was recently elected to the European Parliament as a member of Finland’s liberal Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party).

But as the wrangling continues among Europe’s leaders over whether former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next president of the Commission, Katainen has tried to position himself as an attractive alternative.

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RELATED: The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun

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Juncker seems likely to command an absolute majority of the European Parliament, but there’s no sure bet that he’ll win the qualified majority within the European Council that he’ll need to win the Commission presidency. Juncker, led the pan-European campaign of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the May parliamentary elections, which won the largest number of seats in the 751-member legislature.

Enter Katainen, who’s guided a tenuous six-party (now five-party) coalition in Finland for the past three years, pushing through tough budget cuts, like so many other European governments over the last half-decade, in the face of economic recession. Before his National Coalition Party won the April 2011 national elections, Katainen previously served as finance minister and deputy prime minister, so he would bring to the job — or to any other top EU position — the experiences from governing through the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Continue reading Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency