Finland

I - Political context

Political change      
I.1
What is the political context of the Eurozone crisis period in Finland? Have there been changes in government, elections, referenda or other major political events during the period of 2008-present?

During this period there has been three Councils of State (governments): Prime Minister Vanhanen (II), period 19.4.2007–22.6.2010; Prime Minister Kiviniemi 22.6.2010–22.6.2011, and Prime Minister Katainen 22.6.2011–, all relying on a majority in the Parliament. Since 2008, parliamentary elections have been held once (17 April 2011). Prime Minister Vanhanen’s second Government and Prime Minister Kiviniemi’s Government were formed by the same parties (The Center Party, the National Coalition Party, the Greens and the Swedish People’s Party) except for the change of Prime Minister, following the resignation of Prime Minister Vanhanen from the post of the chairman of the Center Party. On 12 June 2010 the party elected Mari Kiviniemi as the new chairperson, and this change was reflected in the Government. Prime Minister Katainen’s Government is formed by the National Coalition Party, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Swedish People’s Party. The Left Alliance also served in the Government until 25 March 2014.

The parliamentary election campaign before the general election in April 2011 “was regarded as more dynamic than in elections of recent years. The high level of public engagement was typically attributed to the economic crisis and the rise of the True Finns party, which was reportedly gaining support from voters disillusioned with the leading established parties.” (OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission Report 2011) According to the observers, there “was polarization between the positions of the True Finns party and other parties. Topics included international issues such as – – the financial crisis in Europe, with the True Finns Party being the most Euro-skeptic. The rise in popularity of the True Finns party caused much media discussion of their priorities and their potential role in a government coalition also played a role in the campaign.” (Ibid.)

The adoption of the Portuguese aid package coincided with the Parliamentary elections in April 2011. Voter turnout in the elections was 67 %. As indicated already in the polls before the elections, the True Finns party was the winner of elections (39 seats after election out of a total of 200, indicating a huge increase of 35 seats when compared with the situation prior to the elections). It gained 15 % more votes than in the previous elections. Subsequently, all other key parties lost voters, most critically the Center Party of Finland (seats after election 35, – 16), the party of both Prime Minister Vanhanen and Kiviniemi. The current Prime minister party, the National Coalition Party, turned into the largest party (seats after election 44, -6) in the Parliament.

Thus, the election resulted in a clear power shift in Parliament. It also turned government formation into an exceptionally difficult exercise for Finnish conditions. The elections were held in April, and a new government took up office as late as in June. The current Government is a large coalition known as the ‘rainbow government’ or the ‘six-pack’, an arrangement between the National Coalition Party (Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen’s party), Social Democratic Party of Finland (holding other key positions including the posts of the Minister of Finance and for Foreign Affairs), Left Alliance, Green League, Christian Democrats in Finland, and the Swedish People’s Party in Finland. Even if contacts were made between the future Prime Minister and the True Finns, the latter ultimately refused to undertake responsibility in the Government, which placed the Euro-sceptic party in opposition. Naturally, the euro crisis has provided it with plenty of opportunities to challenge the Government’s EU policies.

In current Finnish politics some commitments made prior to the elections continue to affect Finnish positions. For example, a key promise given by the Social Democratic Party during the electoral campaigning was that Finland would not lend money without collateral; a promise it has struggled to keep in Government. Even if not genuinely attracted by this commitment, this has been the solution that the Prime Minister has needed to respect as the price for preserving his own position and keeping his government together.

In the current Parliament the True Finns Party has basically opposed all the decisions connected to the euro crisis, questioning the constitutionality of these decisions in Finland, too. The other large opposition party, the Center Party of Finland, has not been that categorical, but has continued to question the choices of the Government, even if some of them also bear a connection with decisions made during its own lengthy period in power.

Since the Constitution plays a significant role in both the political and legal culture in Finland, constitutional challenges have been visible in everyday decision-making as concerns relating to national sovereignty, the financial competence of Parliament and the democratic legitimacy of the exercise of financial powers.