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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Finland’s New Prime Minister Creates Radically Conservative Government


A couple of days after the general election, National Coalition leader Petteri Orpo struck a deal with other parties to form a coalition government, ushering in a new conservative era for the country (European People's Party, Wikimedia Commons).


On June 20, Finland's newly elected parliament voted in favor of appointing National Coalition Party (NCP) leader Petteri Orpo as the next prime minister. This move marks the end of Social Democrat Sanna Marin's nearly four-year rule and the beginning of one of the most conservative governments in modern Finnish history.


Who is Petteri Orpo?


Born in rural southwest Finland, 53-year-old Orpo has a degree in political science from the University of Turku. He first became a member of the Finnish parliament in 2007, where he quickly began to climb the ranks. Between 2014 and 2019, Orpo served as the agriculture and forestry minister, interior minister, and finance minister. He also became the head of the NCP in 2016, when he successfully challenged Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister, for the position.


Through his work in these positions, Orpo has become somewhat popular in the country, earning significant praise for his handling of the 2015 migration crisis in Europe, when Finland saw a tenfold increase in refugee arrivals. "We can be the country's biggest party, we can do a lot better," he told his supporters after being elected party leader in 2016. His goal would eventually come true.


How Did He Win?


In the April 2 election, the NCP won 48 seats in the 200-seat parliament, ahead of the Finns with 46 and the outgoing Social Democrats with 43. Because his party did not win a majority, however, Orpo was forced to form a coalition government alongside the nationalist Finns Party and two smaller parties, the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People's Party of Finland (RKP). The four parties now hold a majority of 108 seats.


The negotiations that led to this partnership, however, were tense and drawn out. "I am sure that every party has had to accept things that it would not promote or that it would even oppose," RKP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson said. Some, like political analyst Juho Rahkonen, are skeptical that the coalition will last very long. "Already during the negotiations, we saw serious clashes," he commented. Still, Orpo is confident in the loyalty of the four parties. "We have been able to find accord under heavy pressure," he said, "What unites us is that we want to fix Finland."


What Will Be the Effects of Economic Policy?


"We are starting government negotiations with the economy as the core issue," Orpo said as the vote count neared its end, referencing his campaign's focus on Finland's economy. Throughout the course of the election, Orpo and other conservative candidates accused the former Prime Minister of excessive spending, which they say contributed to rising state debt, among other economic problems. By the end of her term, Finland's government debt stood at about 146 billion euros ($159 billion), compared to around 106 billion euros when Marin took office. However, conservatives are now calling for change. "We cannot put our heads in the sand. There is no more money," Orpo said.


Orpo's administration plans to pass direct cuts to public spending that would amount to 4 billion euros ($4.37 billion). Of course, many are hesitant about what this means in terms of welfare benefits and government investment. "This is not easy," Orpo acknowledged. "We have to make cuts where it feels bad." Still, Orpo is hopeful that these spending cuts will create an estimated 100,000 new jobs over the next four years and overall stabilize the Finnish economy.

What Will Be the Effects on International Policy?


Besides the economy, the other major policy espoused by Orpo's new coalition, especially the eurosceptic Finns Party, is immigration reform. "In recent years, Finland has been the only Nordic country with a more lenient immigration policy. This changes now," Finns Party leader Rikka Purra said at a news conference. Orpo's government has already made plans to cut refugee quotas, increase requirements for work-based visas, and make it more difficult for foreigners to obtain citizenship. In total, the government said it aims to halve the number of refugees Finland takes in from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1,050 a year to about 500. There are also plans to establish a separate social security system for immigrants and permanent residents. "I am delighted that together with our negotiating partners, we have agreed on an immigration package that can rightly be called a paradigm shift," Purra said.


Outside of immigration, there have also been moves to decrease involvement in European Union (EU) activity. For example, the government said they would reject participation in any more EU economic recovery plans, like the one implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Orpo has expressed a willingness to continue with the country's tough stance toward its eastern neighbor, Russia. Having just joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April, Orpo has also committed to keeping Finland's military spending in line with the organization's goal of at least 2 percent of GDP. He has even expressed a wish to promote membership in NATO for Sweden and Ukraine.


In the end, the shift from Marin's center-left government to Orpo's significantly more conservative government represents an extreme change in Finland's ideologies. Many of Orpo's policies are popular, but there is growing apprehension, especially in more liberal circles. Regardless, Orpo remains hopeful for the future of the country as he moves into his first term.


 


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