Finland

1. Euroscepticism and the European Parliament elections

Key topics in the electoral campaign and the role of the EU-wide frontrunners

Key top­ics in the elec­toral cam­paigns for the 2014 Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in Fin­land were the Euro and its benefits/drawbacks for Fin­land, and the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine with its impli­ca­tions for EU-Rus­sia rela­tions and for the secu­ri­ty of Europe and Fin­land. The han­dling of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis in Europe was expect­ed to emerge as a key top­ic, but remained more in the back­ground, albeit sur­fac­ing occa­sion­al­ly in debates and inter­views and in con­nec­tion with the dis­cus­sion on the Euro. A lot of atten­tion in the elec­tion debates was paid to themes relat­ed more to the upcom­ing Finnish par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, such as the dis­cus­sion on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of NATO mem­ber­ship and changes in the nation­al gov­ern­ment due to the res­ig­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Katainen, and the appoint­ment of the new chair of the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and hence the Min­is­ter of Finance, Antti Rinne. This under­lines the par­tial role that the elec­tions played in the pre-run-up to the nation­al par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The deep­en­ing or less­en­ing of the inte­gra­tion of the Euro­pean Union was also a top­ic in par­ty cam­paigns, with mod­er­ate euroscep­tic themes raised pri­mar­i­ly by the pop­ulist oppo­si­tion Finns Par­ty. How­ev­er, the con­fronta­tion between pro- and anti-inte­gra­tion turned out to be mild, with the Finns Par­ty soft­en­ing their pre­vi­ous­ly sharp­er crit­i­cism.

While the idea of nom­i­nat­ing EU-wide fron­trun­ners received con­sid­er­able atten­tion in the Finnish media – part­ly because of Finnish Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er Olli Rehn being nom­i­nat­ed as one of two fron­trun­ners of the Alliance of Lib­er­als and Democ­rats for Europe (ALDE), and amid spec­u­la­tion about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Finnish Prime Min­is­ter Jyr­ki Katainen being nom­i­nat­ed as an Euro­pean People’s Par­ty (EPP) can­di­date – the EU-wide fron­trun­ners played very lit­tle part in the actu­al cam­paign­ing. Out of the fron­trun­ners, in addi­tion to Finland’s Rehn, Schulz and Junck­er also vis­it­ed Fin­land dur­ing the cam­paign, but oth­er­wise the actu­al EU-wide lead­ing can­di­dates remained large­ly unknown to the Finnish elec­torate, receiv­ing only mod­est media atten­tion.

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Euroscepticisim in the elections

The largest oppo­si­tion par­ty, the Finns Par­ty, cam­paigned with a theme oppos­ing the EU’s argued devel­op­ment towards a fed­er­al state, and has large­ly main­tained a euroscep­tic stance. The Finns Par­ty rose to their cur­rent polit­i­cal posi­tion with a land­slide vic­to­ry in the 2011 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions with euroscep­ti­cism as one of their key themes, becom­ing the third largest par­ty in the Finnish par­lia­ment. In the light of this, it was expect­ed that euroscep­ti­cism would be strong­ly evi­dent in this year’s Euro­pean Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. How­ev­er, even though the Finns Par­ty used their cam­paign to try to frame the elec­tions as a vote either for or against devel­op­ment towards a clos­er Union, as opposed to their alter­na­tive of a less inte­grat­ed Union with an empha­sis on the inde­pen­dence of mem­ber states, it didn’t become a cen­tral theme in the elec­tions. In addi­tion, this year has seen the Finns Par­ty soft­en­ing their crit­i­cal stance towards the EU by, for exam­ple, not demand­ing an exit from the EU or the Euro­zone, but rather reforms towards a more inde­pen­dent mem­ber states’ Union. This is seen as a move to make the par­ty a more like­ly part­ner in the gov­ern­ment after the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Fin­land. The par­ty cur­rent­ly accepts Finland’s mem­ber­ship in the Euro­zone as a giv­en, but empha­sizes that this can be changed if Finland’s inter­ests demand it.

Oth­er major par­ties which grav­i­tat­ed towards euroscep­tic poli­cies in order to please the vot­ers they had lost to the Finns Par­ty after the 2011 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, have main­ly revert­ed to pro-Euro­pean lines. How­ev­er, some Cen­tre Par­ty can­di­dates did cam­paign with a more EU-crit­i­cal agen­da, most notably Paa­vo Väyry­nen, who has been a long-stand­ing crit­ic of the EU and became the sec­ond most pop­u­lar can­di­date for the Cen­tre Par­ty in the elec­tions, after pro-Euro­pean Olli Rehn. In addi­tion to the Finns Par­ty, there were also a cou­ple of small­er par­ties with more aggres­sive euroscep­tic and nation­al­is­tic agen­das that had can­di­dates run­ning in the Euro­pean Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, but they remained too small to sway pub­lic opin­ion sig­nif­i­cant­ly. In oth­er respects, the Finnish polit­i­cal par­ties are main­ly pro-Euro­pean.

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The outcome of the elections

The out­come has been seen by some as a move towards so-called ‘sec­ond-order elec­tions’, where the turnout is rel­a­tive­ly low, and vot­ers are more eager to switch from their tra­di­tion­al par­ties and to vote in protest against gov­ern­ment par­ties. While the gov­ern­ment par­ties, espe­cial­ly the Nation­al Coali­tion, have pre­vi­ous­ly fared well in the Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Fin­land, in this elec­tion some of the par­ties in gov­ern­ment were clear­ly pun­ished by vot­ers. How­ev­er, unlike in the clas­sic ‘sec­ond-order elec­tions’, there was no rise of small­er par­ties with all the big­ger par­ties los­ing their sup­port, and the Prime Minister’s par­ty, the Nation­al Coali­tion, held onto its posi­tion as the largest par­ty with near­ly as big a share of the votes as in the last Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The Nation­al Coali­tion Par­ty con­se­quent­ly man­aged to retain their three seats, prob­a­bly thanks to their pro-Euro­pean sup­port­er base, which is more like­ly to vote in the Euro­pean elec­tions and less inclined to use them as a protest are­na. Oth­er gov­ern­ment par­ties lost vot­ers as a result of protest vot­ing, how­ev­er. Despite this, the seat count remained large­ly the same as dur­ing the last peri­od, with the Green League and the Chris­t­ian Democ­rats los­ing one seat apiece, and the Left Alliance and the Finns Par­ty gain­ing one seat each – the lat­ter being a far more mod­est gain than expect­ed and a clear dip in their sup­port com­pared to the out­come of the pre­vi­ous nation­al elec­tions.

The turnout remained at 40.9 per­cent, which has been typ­i­cal of pre­vi­ous Euro­pean Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Fin­land. In the media, the main rea­son sug­gest­ed for this low num­ber has been vot­er unfa­mil­iar­i­ty with the way in which the Euro­pean Union and its par­lia­ment func­tion. The assump­tion is that peo­ple feel they don’t know enough to vote, or don’t under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and its increased pow­ers.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Future relations with Russia

The Euro­pean Union’s rela­tions with Rus­sia are, from Finland’s point of view, a key exter­nal pol­i­cy issue, and one where Fin­land has both impor­tant inter­ests at stake and a con­tri­bu­tion to make. Due to Russia’s actions dur­ing the cri­sis in Ukraine, rela­tions are expect­ed to become more chal­leng­ing for both the EU and Fin­land. Dif­fi­cul­ties and uncer­tain­ties are antic­i­pat­ed in eco­nom­ic rela­tions, and there has been some debate about changes to Finland’s secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment as a result of the Ukraine cri­sis, and a pos­si­ble need to re-eval­u­ate Finland’s secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy and even the pos­si­bil­i­ty of re-con­sid­er­ing the pol­i­cy of non-mem­ber­ship of a mil­i­tary alliance (or mil­i­tary non-align­ment). One of the key ele­ments in the cur­rent polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions on rela­tions with Rus­sia have been the eco­nom­ic sanc­tions tar­get­ed against Rus­sia, which are seen as prob­lem­at­ic for Fin­land and detri­men­tal to the Finnish econ­o­my. The gen­er­al atti­tude towards sanc­tions is rather crit­i­cal and Fin­land leans towards nego­ti­a­tion in resolv­ing issues with Rus­sia, even though it is accept­ed that the EU must respond to actions like those wit­nessed in Crimea. The eco­nom­ic sanc­tions are seen as prob­lem­at­ic because of the asym­met­ri­cal dam­age they cause to mem­ber states, as Fin­land will suf­fer con­sid­er­ably more as a result com­pared to most of the oth­er EU coun­tries.

As a close neigh­bour of Rus­sia, rela­tions with the coun­try will no doubt con­tin­ue to be of the utmost impor­tance for Fin­land. The Finnish gov­ern­ment has stressed its com­mit­ment to the EU’s com­mon Rus­sia pol­i­cy, but espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the sanc­tions issue, con­cern has been expressed about the dif­fi­cul­ties involved in strik­ing a bal­ance between this com­mit­ment and safe­guard­ing bilat­er­al rela­tions with Rus­sia. Finland’s goal regard­ing EU-Rus­sia rela­tions has been described by Prime Min­is­ter Katainen as “a nat­ur­al Euro­pean neigh­bour­ing rela­tion­ship, which ben­e­fits Fin­land, the EU as a whole and Rus­sia” (YLE), and Fin­land con­tin­ues to see engag­ing Rus­sia in coop­er­a­tion as a pri­ma­ry strat­e­gy in influ­enc­ing this rela­tion­ship. Accord­ing to the Grand Com­mit­tee of the Finnish Par­lia­ment, the EU should seek a more equal and flex­i­ble approach towards its part­ners, includ­ing Rus­sia, and needs to base its exter­nal rela­tions on a real­is­tic analy­sis of the motives of neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, and their under­stand­ing and expec­ta­tions of the EU.

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Eastern Partnership and events in Ukraine

The East­ern Part­ner­ship has tra­di­tion­al­ly enjoyed Finland’s sup­port. How­ev­er, in the light of the recent events, the use­ful­ness and the future of the East­ern Part­ner­ship have been called into ques­tion. From Finland’s per­spec­tive, the East­ern Part­ner­ship sum­mit in Novem­ber 2013 (where Ukraine announced that it would post­pone the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with the EU, fore­shad­ow­ing the esca­la­tion of the cri­sis in Ukraine) not only illus­trat­ed the EU’s dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia, but also with oth­er ex-Sovi­et states. In the light of the events that ensued – the vio­lence in Kiev, the change of gov­ern­ment, the annex­a­tion of Crimea by Rus­sia and now the ongo­ing vio­lence in East­ern Ukraine – the East­ern Part­ner­ship is still regard­ed in Fin­land as a rel­e­vant polit­i­cal frame­work, espe­cial­ly for build­ing democ­ra­cy in the part­ner­ship coun­tries. How­ev­er, there needs to be a stronger focus on the indi­vid­ual needs of the part­ner­ship coun­tries.

Fin­land has empha­sised that the East­ern Part­ner­ship is not a pol­i­cy lead­ing to mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union, and, as such, it should be kept sep­a­rate from enlarge­ment dis­cus­sions. The con­di­tions for deep­en­ing rela­tions with the part­ner­ship coun­tries depend on the imple­men­ta­tion of the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments and on com­ply­ing with the com­mon val­ues in the part­ner­ship coun­tries. From Finland’s per­spec­tive, the pri­ma­ry goal of the East­ern Part­ner­ship remains the reforms in the part­ner­ship coun­tries, and the con­ver­gence of their legal and eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion. In the future, the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed nature of the advance­ment of the part­ner­ship coun­tries should be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion more seri­ous­ly, and more effort should be invest­ed in pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion about the part­ner­ship.

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Turkey and its membership perspective

Turkey was offi­cial­ly recog­nised as a can­di­date for full mem­ber­ship of the EU dur­ing Finland’s pres­i­den­cy of the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union in 1999, and Fin­land has duly sup­port­ed its mem­ber­ship aspi­ra­tions. This, how­ev­er, has been some­thing of a safe option for Fin­land, since Turkey’s mem­ber­ship has been seen as a rather remote pos­si­bil­i­ty giv­en the dif­fer­ent posi­tions of the EU mem­ber states on this ques­tion. In oth­er words, offi­cial­ly Fin­land has sup­port­ed the enlarge­ment, with­out hav­ing to take a stance on Turkey’s actu­al mem­ber­ship of the Union in the near future, which would prob­a­bly be a more prob­lem­at­ic issue for Fin­land.

Turkey’s mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive hasn’t been a key sub­ject of polit­i­cal debate in Fin­land dur­ing the past two years, although the ques­tion was raised occa­sion­al­ly by the media dur­ing the elec­toral cam­paign­ing. The largest oppo­si­tion par­ty, the Finns, has opposed Turkey’s mem­ber­ship and there has been notable oppo­si­tion to the mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive among politi­cians of the oth­er par­ties, too. Accord­ing to a poll com­mis­sioned by Finnish TV chan­nel MTV3 in 2013, 68 per­cent of the Finnish pop­u­la­tion were against Turkey’s mem­ber­ship, even if the coun­try man­aged to ful­fil the mem­ber­ship require­ments. Par­ties (with the excep­tion of the Finns Par­ty) are gen­er­al­ly more amenable to the prospect of Turkey’s mem­ber­ship in the future, but it is not cur­rent­ly seen as fea­si­ble. How­ev­er, the offi­cial Finnish for­eign pol­i­cy sup­ports the con­tin­u­a­tion of mem­ber­ship nego­ti­a­tions and the EU acces­sion process is seen as a dri­ving force behind the reforms in Turkey. Finland’s offi­cial line is that, as a mem­ber of the EU, Turkey would be able to strength­en the Union as an eco­nom­ic and for­eign pol­i­cy actor. The actu­al line sees the prospect of mem­ber­ship as a means of advanc­ing reforms in Turkey, with actu­al mem­ber­ship not on the hori­zon at present. Regard­ing the mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria, Finland’s posi­tion is that only Euro­pean coun­tries that ful­fil the applic­a­ble cri­te­ria in the areas of democ­ra­cy, human rights, the rule of law and mar­ket econ­o­my are eli­gi­ble, and that no com­pro­mise can be made with regard to these cri­te­ria, and acces­sion should not be expe­dit­ed for polit­i­cal rea­sons.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Germany’s role in the EU

The lead­ing role that Ger­many has assumed – more or less will­ing­ly – in the Euro­pean Union has received lit­tle oppo­si­tion from Fin­land. Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s poli­cies have been easy for Fin­land to sup­port for the most part, often con­verg­ing with Finnish inter­ests and goals. In par­tic­u­lar, Germany’s pol­i­cy regard­ing Ukraine, which has also tak­en into account the con­cerns of coun­tries that would shoul­der most of the eco­nom­ic bur­den of the pos­si­ble sanc­tions, has been regard­ed as bridge-build­ing in Fin­land. Germany’s EU poli­cies have also empha­sized the role of small and mid­dle-sized mem­ber states, hence being favourable to Fin­land.

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Austerity vs. growth

There has been con­sid­er­able polit­i­cal debate in Fin­land about aus­ter­i­ty ver­sus growth as a solu­tion to the Euro­pean eco­nom­ic cri­sis, with both strate­gies gain­ing sup­port from dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal sides. At the out­set of the cri­sis, Finland’s posi­tion was clear­ly in favour of the aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies, but since the country’s own eco­nom­ic trou­bles have deep­ened, this line has been ques­tioned, espe­cial­ly on the left side of the polit­i­cal spec­trum.

The largest par­ty in par­lia­ment, the Nation­al Coali­tion, has sup­port­ed the cur­rent Euro­pean pol­i­cy and its aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures, while the Social Democ­rats have tak­en a growth and state inter­ven­tion stance in the debate, with recent com­ments indi­cat­ing that they are edg­ing clos­er to the lines of the Euro­pean Social Democ­rats. While under­lin­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty in the Finnish eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, it should be not­ed that the Social Democ­rats have been crit­i­cal of bail-outs and joint respon­si­bil­i­ty at the Euro­pean lev­el. The Left Alliance have expressed their clear sup­port for Euro­pean-lev­el sol­i­dar­i­ty and the rich­er mem­ber states’ respon­si­bil­i­ty to sup­port those in trou­ble, while oth­er par­ties have either been against joint respon­si­bil­i­ty or have demand­ed guar­an­tees and col­lat­er­al in return for Finnish finan­cial aid. All the par­ties empha­size that a bal­ance needs to be struck between aus­ter­i­ty and growth, and the ques­tion is more about how much weight should be giv­en to each.

The Finnish government’s posi­tion is that fail­ures to com­ply with com­mon­ly agreed rules were brought about by polit­i­cal mis­takes, which led to and aggra­vat­ed the cri­sis. The reforms in the area of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy coor­di­na­tion, as well as those to be car­ried out in con­nec­tion with the bank­ing union, will be instru­men­tal in address­ing the flaws afflict­ing the effi­cient oper­a­tion of the eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary union. Bud­getary bal­ance and the reduc­tion of debt are some of the main objec­tives of the reforms sup­port­ed by the gov­ern­ment. With­in these objec­tives the most impor­tant goals are improv­ing eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy coor­di­na­tion and the estab­lish­ment of the bank­ing union. Strength­ened eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy coor­di­na­tion should pri­mar­i­ly seek to cre­ate added val­ue, stream­line the exist­ing pro­ce­dures and instru­ments, pro­mote the exchange of best prac­tices, and eval­u­ate the social impli­ca­tions across the board. Sol­i­dar­i­ty in the form of com­mon Eurobonds or a redemp­tion fund for coun­tries with exces­sive nation­al debt has been firm­ly reject­ed. Key ele­ments in achiev­ing the nec­es­sary eco­nom­ic growth are seen to be restor­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness and putting pub­lic finances on a sound foot­ing. Mem­ber states are required to car­ry out struc­tur­al reforms in order to improve the com­pet­i­tive­ness of their prod­ucts and ser­vices.

Accord­ing to a state­ment made by the Grand Com­mit­tee of the Finnish Par­lia­ment, reviv­ing the Euro­pean econ­o­my calls for greater pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the indus­tri­al and ser­vice sec­tors. The enhanced com­pet­i­tive­ness needs to be based pri­mar­i­ly on increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and inno­va­tion. The alter­na­tive – inter­nal deval­u­a­tions involv­ing reduced labour costs – is seen as a high­ly prob­lem­at­ic option because of its neg­a­tive impact on demand and even on social sta­bil­i­ty. Thus it is the Grand Committee’s line that Fin­land should use the objec­tive of reviv­ing eco­nom­ic growth as a bench­mark in assess­ing every pro­posed Euro­pean pol­i­cy and legal act. This serves to demon­strate the dif­fer­ence that exists between the government’s pol­i­cy and major opin­ions in the Par­lia­ment.

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UK exit

UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s announce­ment of plans to nego­ti­ate a new set­tle­ment with the EU and to hold a ref­er­en­dum on the UK’s mem­ber­ship of the EU drew a neg­a­tive response in Fin­land for the most part. Prime Min­is­ter Katainen stat­ed that he would rather use the EU’s resources to devel­op the Union, not to break it, see­ing nego­ti­a­tions with the UK as putting a strain on the Union. Euro­pean Min­is­ter Alexan­der Stubb said that it would be lam­en­ta­ble if the UK left the Union, regard­ing Cameron’s demands as improb­a­ble to achieve. How­ev­er, Timo Soi­ni, the euroscep­tic leader of the Finns Par­ty, lent his sup­port to the idea of a ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship.

The Unit­ed King­dom has been an impor­tant part­ner for Fin­land, and the UK’s view­points on eco­nom­ic poli­cies have con­verged with the Nation­al Coali­tion Party’s posi­tions in par­tic­u­lar, increas­ing the impor­tance of the UK as an actor with­in the EU. The UK’s poten­tial exit from the Union is thus not seen as desir­able from Finland’s point of view, not least because of the dam­age it would cause to the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.