The National Coalition, led by the ousted PM Alexander Stubb, was the only party of the former government to make it into the new coalition which is set to be sworn in this week. Juha Sipilä, the to-be Prime Minister, has led the negotiations with the NCP and the Finns Party throughout the last few weeks and the work is almost done – the new government platform is estimated to be published on Wednesday. The platform will roughly reveal what Finland’s stance on Europe will be for the next four years.
There are significant internal divisions on the topic of EU policy in the new government. Sipilä, the leader of the Centre Party, has rarely presented unambiguous statements about the EU. Both Olli Rehn, the former EU Commissioner and a pro-European, and Paavo Väyrynen, a political dinosaur who has several times said that Finland would be better off with a currency of its own, belong to the party. As for the other governing parties, the Finns Party, although it has become calmer in the course of the last four years, is still critical of Brussels while the National Coalition with its leader Stubb is in favour of European integration.
A compromise within the new government seems to have been found, though little information about the details has been shared with the media yet. Since EU policy, along with immigration, was perhaps the most divisive issue, it was discussed in the very beginning of the negotiations a couple of weeks ago. Upon the agreement, Timo Soini, the Finns Party leader, noted that room for interpretation would be left, stating that the National Coalition would likely consider there to be little change to the current Finnish policy while the Finns party would say that real changes have been made. The Finnish national broadcasting corporation, YLE, reported that especially the Finns Party had to be flexible in the negotiations, which suggests that the changes are eventually going to be somewhat modest.
Of all the EU-related topics, economic governance has been covered the most in the news. It seems that Timo Soini, who is profoundly fed up with giving financial support to Greece and other victims of the Eurocrisis, is going to be appointed Minister of Finance. That means Finland will likely take a strong stance against spending any taxpayer money on bailout packages, though one must bear in mind that Finland has never been particularly eager to participate in these operations. It is not at all unthinkable that Finland will also be reluctant to promote other forms of economic integration or collaboration in the Eurogroup which may be the place where the European influence of the Finns Party is experienced more strongly than anywhere else.
The post of the Foreign Minister was initially expected to belong to Alexander Stubb but the most recent rumours suggest that he would be leading a ministry connected to the economy in one way or another, perhaps something similar to the currently existing Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Balancing the books and carrying out structural reforms, particularly those concerning healthcare, are undisputably the main goals of the government and, on the other hand, Stubb and Sipilä’s views on Finland’s NATO membership differ rather considerably. Those are the reasons why it could make sense to let Stubb work on the national economy and make somebody else, perhaps Olli Rehn of the leading Centre Party, Foreign Minister. Inside sources have speculated on Rehn’s appointment which would be a good signal for Finland’s commitment to common European foreign policy.
The basis for Finland’s European policy will largely become clear as the week goes by but of course the government platform doesn’t definitely determine individual decisions. If things go as expected, certain issues are going to be harder for Finland than they were before but the presence of the nationalist Finns Party doesn’t cause the country to take a complete U-turn. The leading pro-European party will be there in the government, too, and the Centre Party (which, perhaps rather curiously but still, belongs to the ALDE group in the European Parliament) has its own ”European wing”. A politician’s main challenge is to reach compromises and that’s what the new Finnish government has so far been successful in. Sipilä’s Finland is likely going to be an in-between in Europe: neither best friends nor worst enemies with avid pro-Europeans.