April 14, 2019
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) won 17.7% of the vote, the anti-immigration far-right Finns Party landed second place with 17.5%, the National Coalition Party scored 17%, and the Center Party 13.8%, marking the first time in over a century that no party has received more than 20% of the votes in an election. All center-left and left-wing parties saw an increase in popularity, with the Green League gaining 11.5% and the Left Alliance with 8.2%. Turnout reached 72%, and SDP took 40 seats in the 200-seat parliament, one more than the Finns Party. SDP leader Antti Rinne has struck a coalition agreement with four other parties (Centre Party, Greens, Left Alliance, Swedish People’s Party) and will now be the first left-wing prime minister in 20 years.
- Unicameral parliament in unitary parliamentary republic; 200 members elected for 4-year terms.
- Proportional voting system, no set vote threshold to enter parliament but the number of seats in the 13 electoral districts are based on population size (except Aland, which always has one).
- President appoints the Prime Minister after the election based on coalition formation; Parliament approves the PM and cabinet, oversees the government led by the PM.
- Incumbent: coalition of Centre Party, Blue Reform (split faction of Finns Party), and National Coalition Party, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila (Centre Party).
- Centre Party (Kesk) : center; agrarian roots, decentralization and limited state intervention; relatively pro-EU but opposed to more integration; for pragmatic partnership with NATO (not membership); practical dialogue with Russia.
- Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) : center-left; social democracy, socially liberal; against work-based immigration; against NATO membership but pro-Partnership for Peace; pro-EU with stronger social dimension; supports sanctions on Russia but also dialogue.
- National Coalition Party (KOK) : center-right; liberal-conservative, socially liberal, market economy; pro-work-based immigration; pro-EU; supports NATO membership; against normalization of relations with Russia until it alters its aggressive behavior.
- Finns Party/True Finns (PS) : conservative nationalism; populism, state support for workers and industry, socially conservative; supports lower immigration, including refugees; Euroskeptic; against NATO membership.
- Green League (VIHR) : center-left; green economy, socially liberal; pro-immigration; pro-EU in a more federal form; opposed to NATO membership but flexible if Sweden joins.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- The United States is Finland’s third-largest export market; two-way trade in goods and services was around $12 billion in 2017.
- Finland is not a NATO member, but it is a NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partner, as is Sweden: it regularly participates in NATO exercises and training and periodically takes part in NATO Ministerial meetings when invited as an observer.
- Finland and the United States signed a Bilateral Defense Agreement in 2016. Finland, Sweden, and the United States signed a Trilateral Statement of Intent in May 2018 designed to enhance their defense relationship in several areas. These agreements are important to bridge any gap resulting from Finland and Sweden’s non-membership in NATO.
- Finland will hold the rotating 6-month EU Presidency in the second half of 2019. Ensuring constructive, pragmatic NATO-EU cooperation is one of its stated priorities for its term.
- Finland shares over 830 miles of border with Russia and is an important security partner for the U.S. in this regard.
- The Finnish defense forces are in the process of upgrading their fighter aircraft. Finland currently operates the Boeing F-18 and will make the final selection in its F/A-18C/D Hornet replacement program by 2021. Current contenders are Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Key Issues to Watch
- The political sphere is fragmented, and inconclusive results could lead to a prolonged coalition formation process, particularly since the leaders of the largest parties have pledged not to form a coalition with the Finns Party.
- Finland will hold the rotating EU Presidency during the second half of 2019, when the new European Parliament will begin its work and the new Commission will be formed. Finland may have a more difficult time realizing its EU Presidency priorities if it cannot form a government, or if Euroskeptic forces receive a high percentage of the vote.
- The country has faced stronger populist, right-wing forces in recent years that push back against European integration and are vocally against immigration. Positive results for the populist parties could forecast a strong populist showing in the European Parliament elections at the end of May.
- Finland has prepared against potential influence threats from Russia during the election, which could try to foster support for anti-EU, anti-immigration parties; the country has maintained its support of Ukraine-related sanctions despite keeping dialogue open.