Politics

A Polarised Finland

The 2019 European elections saw Green parties achieve their best ever result. Their new weight in a fractured European Parliament is an opportunity for progress on climate, democracy and the rule of law, and social justice. Green parties often perform better at European elections but this time the success is sustained elsewhere. Local elections in the UK, national elections in Portugal, government coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Luxembourg – the Greens are advancing at all levels. The major caveat is that the “green wave” is absent from much of southern and eastern Europe. Part of our latest edition looks at where political ecology made electoral gains, bringing together analyses of five Green parties to see where they stand. Simo Raittila looks at where the Finnish Greens stand after entering a progressive coalition government in 2019.

The EU elections of 2019 were the Greens’ best result to date. The second largest party, the Greens gained two MEP seats and a third one since Brexit. Since then, Heikki Isotalo, press officer of the Finnish Greens, has calculated that support for the old parties has dropped below 50 per cent for the first time based on polling from late 2019. While the Greens have steadily increased their support through the decades, the right-wing populist Finns Party, another “young party”, has pocketed between 17.5 and 19 per cent of the vote in the three parliamentary elections since 2011. Finnish politics is highly polarised.

The political divide seems to have moved on from a traditional economic left-right divide to social and cultural issues or identity. Political scientists have named one alternative political axis “GAL-TAN” (Green, Alternative, and Libertarian versus Traditionalist, Authoritarian, and Nationalist). The Greens and Finns benefit from this: Greens stand strongly for climate action, the old parties are on the fence, and the populists are firmly against.

As power has shifted, it is increasingly hard to build a solid coalition government in the Finnish parliament. Two of the old established parties (the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, and the National Coalition Party) are insufficient as a base; now the younger parties have to be accommodated. Future coalitions will have to rely on broad-based cooperation over the left-right divide or always include either the Greens or the Finns Party. A minority government would be another solution, but one that has not been seen in Finnish politics for over 40 years.

The current government includes the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, the Greens, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People’s Party.
To oppose the rise of the populist right, Green New Deal policies need to materialise and to be on a scale large enough to change the narrative and to give people hope and trust in a just future. The Greens especially need to deliver now that they are in office.

One fear is that the parties in the coalition will only be able to agree on watered-down solutions. If the Finns Party becomes popular enough, some Centre Party and National Coalition politicians have already hinted at cooperation. These signals were sent even though the Finns and its politicians have become more openly racist since their botched coalition with two more moderate conservative parties from 2015 to 2017.

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

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A Polarised Finland

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