Immigration and the environment keep the balance of Finnish government negotiations on a razor’s edge
After four weeks of heated talks, Finland’s far-right party insists all other issues are shelved until progress is made – or not – on immigration and the environment.
While most of Finland was swept away by the Tumultuous entry into Eurovision in May, in the gilded halls of the House of States in Helsinki, talks to form a new government continued, advancing nowhere.
Behind the sturdy wooden doors of this ornate building in the heart of Finland’s capital, hundreds of elected politicians, party officials, civil servants and experts worked tirelessly to try to strengthen the cohesion between the four parties. These threads have been torn apart by heated arguments, accusations and even gaslighting in social media discussions.
The main culprits are the far-right Finnish Party, which seems to have the upper hand at the moment. This week, they demanded that discussion on all other issues except immigration and the environment be frozen. Their justification: if the right-wing National Coalition Party (locally known as Kokoomus) which won the general elections in April, and the smaller Swedish People’s Party SFP/RKP capitulate to these larger roadblocks, then they will have won a huge victory. Moreover, the rest of the program for the next four years of government will be much easier to negotiate.
“I think heated discussions were to be expected, especially between the representatives of the Finnish Party and the RKP/SFP, as these are the two negotiating parties with probably the biggest ideological differences; especially when they are associated with a populist political style and political communication on the side of the Finnish Party”, explains Jenni Kärimäki, researcher in political history at the University of Helsinki.
Kärimäki told Euronews it’s also no surprise that Finland’s relatively inexperienced cohort of Party politicians haven’t changed their usual communication style, spreading their dirty laundry on social media, rather than keeping private discussions.
“Many of them have huge numbers of online followers and they will continue to speak to that audience, regardless of their status as MPs in a negotiating government party. Staying in touch with their supporters is crucial if the ‘you want to be re-elected by the same online audience in four years,’ she said.
Negotiations between adversaries, not between allies
Finnish political observers say these government negotiations are among the most baffling they can recall in recent history. Indeed, the three parties that could form the core of a new government are simply incompatible in so many policy areas on paper.
While the leader of Kokoomus Petteri Orpo has been credited for his consistent handling of the talks, he appears to be pinning all his hopes of forming a government on Finland’s far-right party softening its stance on immigration – that their leader Rikka Purra indicated will not fly – as well as on the areas of EU policy and the fight against the climate crisis.
There is also a chasm on a range of other issues, including how to tackle the government’s large debt.
For now, the Swedish People’s Party seems to be playing political chicken to see who blinks first: either the Finnish Party abandons its longstanding red lines, or the SFP/RKP would reject its own values-based beliefs. The latter have moved further left over the past four years in Sanna Marin’s government, particularly on immigration, international aid, tackling climate change and keeping Finland in order. international rules-based.
Should either side capitulate, it would be a political earthquake in the Nordic nation.
The SFP/RKP in particular seems to be the odd one out in this possible coalition. It is not difficult to find MPs from the Finnish party who are against compulsory Swedish lessons in all Finnish schools, or who think that Swedish-speaking Finns – who make up around 5% of the population – are elites who traditionally hold too much power. And it’s not hard to find fringe Finnish Party supporters who don’t even believe that Swedish-speaking Finns are “real Finns”.
“I am not at all surprised at the clashes, but almost stunned to understand why the Swedish People’s Party is still in talks and actually wants to be in government with the Finnish Party,” says an SFP/RKP member and former ministerial adviser, who asked not to be named.
Is there a bigger political game at stake?
So, could the whole negotiation be part of a bigger game for the Finnish Party or the SFP/RKP?
The Swedish People’s Party, which has been part of nearly every Finnish government since 1980, was stung when it was kicked out of the 2015 three-party coalition government. It watched helplessly as the institutions and programs underpinning the status of the Swedish language in Finland. funded or completely scrapped.
So they threw themselves into these negotiations, perhaps rather than being left out again – even though they faced a volley of nasty criticism from some Finnish party MPs accusing them of being a “small” party, a party that doesn’t deserve much to say about forming a government in the first place.
If the SFP/RKP pulls out of the talks, the government formation most likely collapses, so in reality they hold a lot of power.
“I think the leader of the Swedish People’s Party Anna Maja Henriksson really mean it when she says that we will not go to a government that does Finnish party politics. But I don’t know how far she will bend this rhetoric to be able to integrate, ”says the SFP / RKP MP, and former ministerial adviser.
“She wouldn’t agree to completely stop taking in immigrants, but maybe instead she would reduce the quota for cost reasons or whatever, there might be compromises that she could ideologically agree with. “, they add.
There is also an idea that the Finnish Party entered the negotiations with a cast iron list of demands and no real intention of softening their fundamental positions so that they could eventually back down.
“The Finnish Party can say that we did our best, we defended our values, and the others don’t see it that way so we quit,” explains Kimmo Elosenior researcher at the University of Turku Center for Parliamentary Studies.
“They can sell this to their constituents as a victory. But what Petter Orpo is a bit worried about is that they could turn this into growing support among voters, especially if they are in opposition with the Party. of the Center.”
And what about the Kokoomus themselves?
The idea has been floated that they too entered the negotiations hoping that the Finnish party would give in to its position on immigration, but knowing that it might not be so.
“I think the most likely situation is that if Orpo says he won’t work with the Finnish party, they will replace him with the Social Democrats,” Elo says.
“They would then have a traditional coalition and send a message to the voters, lessons learned, it won’t work with the Finnish party, because they can’t cooperate with other parties to form a viable majority coalition.
“The message is: you can vote for them, but don’t expect it to work with them in government,” Elo adds.
What is the deadline for the end of the negotiations?
There are internal and external pressures on the parties to get an agreement on the line as soon as possible.
At this time of year, Finnish politicians want to wrap things up before the summer solstice. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine a politician sacrificing a weekend at the summer cottage, and the power of that holiday is a strong incentive to strike deals.
There is also the European Council meeting which takes place at the end of June. Kokoomus will want to have a government team in place, with appointed ministers and teams of advisers, as a signal to Brussels and the rest of the European Union that Finland is open for business and functioning well.
There is also the inner pressure. A recent poll showed that only 8% of Swedish People’s Party voters want to be in government with the Finnish Party, and pressure will mount from their own supporter base. There are already cracks within the SFP/RKP, with more than one of their MPs taking part in the talks under duress.
“The people who are really upset are the voters. Many MPs from southern Finland from the Swedish People’s Party are going to have voters and party members who will complain if we go into government with the Finnish Party. There are already a lot of pressure on these deputies.”, explains the SFP/RKP insider.
But at some point he needs proper and decisive leadership from the leader of Kokoomus, Petteri Orpo. If the parties are still so far apart on big, important issues and there is no breakthrough, it might be time to call this round dead and then resume with a plan B instead. .
Here again, either the Finnish Party or the SFP/RKP could break first and abandon their political positions on the red line.
But if they entered government together, big questions would hang over whether they could last for the next four years as cooperative and productive teammates.