The fallout from the recent national elections
The recent parliamentary elections in Finland resulted in a historical defeat for the incumbent Centre Party and were also noteworthy for electing the largest ratio of women ever to be represented in the Parliament (46%), no party gaining over 20% of the votes, less than 1% difference between the three biggest parties, and voter turnout being the highest since 1991. However, one element remained constant with regard to the last two elections; the far-right Finns Party nearly obtained the most votes, which ahead of the EU elections adds to the series of nationalist movements in Europe. Such a strong performance in national politics provides an opportunity for the Finnish far-right to establish alliances with other prominent like-minded leaders such as Le Pen of France or Salvini of Italy, potentially creating a strong bloc in the new European Parliament.
EU Elections to take place right after the national elections
Like many other countries, Finland’s voter turnout in the 2014 European Parliament elections was very modest at just 39.1%, compared to the 70.1% turnout in the 2015 national parliamentary elections. Concerns over voter-turnout revolve around a number of issues, all caused by the national parliamentary elections in April 2019. Firstly, national politicians’ touring took priority over potential MEPs’ campaigns, essentially decreasing the visibility of the EU elections in the country. Secondly, the rather challenging process of forming the next Finnish government will reach its peak during the May elections, which in turn will keep the popular parties busy during the EU campaign. Lastly, as the two elections are only six weeks apart, a mild case of voter fatigue might affect Finns’ enthusiasm to vote in the EU elections. At least the Finnish provincial elections have been postponed from the vicinity of the European elections until later in the year!
The Next Presidency of the Council
The EU’s visibility in Finland has not disappeared entirely as the country will take on the 6-month Council Presidency from July 2019. This will be the country’s third EU Presidency, the priorities for which will be largely determined by the next soon-to-be-formed government. For example, the scope of the Presidency’s environmental priorities will depend on whether the right-wing Finns Party will be part of the government. The other main parties however have stated that they would rather not form a government with the Finns Party, leaving the possibility of a centre-left government on the table. The priorities of the Finnish Presidency will be formally published in June before the Presidency begins, but hopefully by which time the new government will have been formed.
And what about the European Commission?
Former Finnish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who lost the EPP nomination for European Commission President to Germany’s Manfred Weber, has been voicing interest in a Commission role on artificial intelligence. This plan relied on the victory of his National Coalition party in the Finnish elections, which did not come to pass, but if his party joins the government there is still a chance for him to be sent to Brussels. However, Stubb himself has said he is quite happy in his current role as Deputy Head of the European Investment Bank, at least for now.
Finnish Priorities in the European Parliament
During this term climate, energy, and mobility have been the centre of attention for Finnish MEPs, as well as digitalisation and international trade. For the term ahead, a more specified set of priorities has been voiced by current MEPs. Climate policy and reducing the carbon footprint still play a pivotal role for Finnish MEPs, not least on account of the importance of the Finnish forestry industry. Additionally, “arctic connectivity” can be expected to be among the Finnish priorities, a concept which, in essence, calls for more EU investment in Finnish arterial roads, railways in the north, and construction of the proposed railway tunnel between Finland and Estonia. Finally, the CAP reform and developing circular economy remain additional areas of importance for Finnish MEPs.