ECFR: Reinventing Europe: Finland – from a model pupil into a troublemaker?
Finland: from a model pupil into a troublemaker?
The 2011 general election was a watershed in Finnish politics. The vote was largely concerned with Finland’s European responsibilities, being held just as the EU constructed its stability policy with the Portugese loan package and the details of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) on the table.
Although the agenda was technical and narrow, revolving around bail-out packages and Finnish liabilities, this was the first time that EU issues had dominated the national electoral agenda. This also led to the emergence of the populist True Finns as a significant electoral force, upsetting the consensual atmosphere of Finnish politics and introducing a strong Eurosceptic voice into a more polarised national debate. Since then the True Finns have continued to enjoy electoral success at a local level. However it now seems that the 2011 elections were above all a warning to the other main parties that the turmoil in the Eurozone was now able to interrupt the European consensus in Finnish politics under specific conditions, and turn a model pupil into a temporary troublemaker.
The roots of Finland’s European policy lie in its situation before accession in 1995. For decades it had performed a difficult balancing act between the two Cold War blocs, and saw the EU as the provider of a new security paradigm as well as the route to economic advance. A firm consensus emerged over a constructive European policy that involved participation in the core groups on issues like the single currency and a possible deepening of the common security and defence policy. This was backed by the strong performance of Finland’s export-led economy, exemplified by companies with global markets such as Nokia and Kone.
This was the consensus that was upset first by the euro crisis and then by the election of 2011. Under a strong challenge from the True Finns both the Social Democrats and the Centre Party became less Europhile. Among the leading parties, only the National Coalition Party of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen remains openly enthusiastic about the EU, although the governing coalition has adopted a more cautious approach, at least on economic issues. Finland’s position in Europe continues to be strongly debated: some arguing that the government’s more Eurosceptic stance carries negative side effects for Finland within the EU; others note that the continuation of the sovereign debt crisis is even beginning to exhaust the patience of Katainen’s National Coalition Party (although it has, case by case, been able to mobilise the necessary parliamentary support for the elements of the EU’s stability policies).
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