Finland: Centre-right wins European elections but candidates for EU top jobs come from elsewhere

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Finland: Centre-right wins European elections but candidates for EU top jobs come from elsewhere
Helsinki Cathedral. Photo: CC0

In Finland last Sunday, the centre-right National Coalition Party continued its 20-year-long winning streak in the European elections. Nonetheless, in the speculation on EU top jobs, the eyes are on other parties. The Finnish Commissioner will be a Social Democrat for the first time since 2004, while the two Finnish contestants for European Central Bank leadership come from the Social Democrats and the Centre Party.

Centre-right wins in the elections, Greens reach second place

The Finnish seats in the European Parliament will be distributed rather equally between the main parties. The National Coalition with its 20.8% of the vote will have three MEPs; the Greens (16%), the Social Democrats (14.6%), the Finns Party (13.8%) and the Centre Party (13.5%) will each get two. The Left Alliance (6.9%) and the Swedish People’s Party (6.3%) each keep their one seat. If Brexit happens, the Greens will get a third MEP – Alviina Alametsä, a 26-year-old who survived a school shooting in 2007.

In the Finnish parliamentary election just a month ago, the Social Democrats had won while the Finns Party came second. The clear difference in the results of elections held only weeks apart shows that European and national elections aren’t the same thing. Speaking to the Finnish public broadcaster YLE, Timo Miettinen from the University of Helsinki says that the centre-right and the Greens have established a clear pro-European profile, while the Social Democrats suffer from not having as clear an image as a ‘Europe party’.

In the same YLE article, professor Hanna Wass from the University of Helsinki explained the centre-right party’s success by saying that the educated, well-off electorate of the National Coalition is the most likely to turn out to vote. Indeed, voter turnout in Finland remained comparatively low, at 42.7% for voters residing in Finland. While this is a modest increase from 41.0% in 2014, Finland was still below the overall European turnout that reached above 50%.

Finland was a contributor to the ‘Green wave’ sweeping across Europe: for the Greens, coming second and winning 16% of the vote was an all-time best. The Greens won one seat, and will double their gains if Brexit happens. The nationalist Finns Party, for their part, failed to make any gains compared to 2014.

Commissioner will be a Social Democrat woman, Liikanen and Rehn fight for ECB presidency

The current Finnish Commissioner, Jyrki Katainen, comes from the National Coalition. Beside Katainen, the best-known Finn in Brussels may be Alexander Stubb who in the autumn made a bid to become the EPP’s lead candidate for Commission presidency. Despite the centre-right’s strong showing in last week’s European elections, in the next five years the Finnish faces are expected to come from other parties.

By convention, the Finnish Commissioner comes from the winning party in the previous national election. The Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne, who is finishing up negotiations for a government coalition he is to head, has stated that Finland will now have its first female Commissioner in history. This would exclude Eero Heinäluoma, a long-standing national-level figure within the party who was the most successful individual candidate in this May’s European elections in Finland.

The two main candidates left are the re-elected MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri who is perhaps best known as the rapporteur of the EU’s roaming legislation, and the former Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen who represented Finland’s tough stance on managing the Eurocrisis during her term in 2011–2014.

Finland also has two strong contenders for the successor of Mario Draghi as the European Central Bank President. Both Erkki Liikanen and Olli Rehn have served as Commissioners and as governors of the Bank of Finland; Liikanen comes from the Social Democrats, Rehn from the Centre Party. Both of the two would likely be more ‘hawkish’ than Draghi as ECB President, and DailyFX’s Daniela Sabin Hathorn writes that they might increase the ECB’s interest rates.

A poll of economists by Reuters suggests that Liikanen is the most likely candidate to win the nomination. Olli Rehn has become known as a candidate advocating more large-scale ECB reform, including a review of the ECB’s inflation rate target of just below 2%. Rehn also encourages governments to do more with their tax policy, rather than expecting the ECB’s interest rate policy to solve all economic problems. Other headline candidates for the ECB job include the Frenchmen François Villeroy de Galhau and Benoît Cœuré, as well as the German Jens Weidmann.

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