Finland – the EU Parliamentary Elections

Political Background

Finland only joined the EU in 1995 following a departure from its long-standing policy of neutrality as a result of its status as a capitalist liberal democracy which bordered the USSR. Finland is the only Nordic state to currently use the Euro.

Finland has long been victim to the desires of its more powerful neighbours.  Finland was part the Kingdom of Sweden between the 13th century and 1809, and Sweden had been attempting to conquer Finland from as early as the 1150s. After 1809, Finland became an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, as the Grand Duchy of Finland, becoming Independent from 1917 due to the chaos of the Russian Civil War.

Finland was a victim of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which divided Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the USSR, with Finland set up for Soviet annexation. As such, Finland ended up on the Axis side in the Second World War, though the Finns never pursued anti-semitic policies (indeed Jews served on the frontlines), or formally joined the Axis. The Finns fought hard against the Soviets, who absurdly outnumbered them, with three times as many troops, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times the number of Finnish tanks. Nonetheless, the devastation of the Soviet officers corps due to Stalin’s purges, and the Finns use of guerrilla tactics in country that they better knew served to their advantage. Highly mobile Finnish units were able to surprise the Russians with hit and run tactics. It is from this war that petrol bombs became known as ‘Molotov cocktails’ as the Finns, who used them to the extent that they were mass-produced named them after the Soviet Foreign Minister. The war ended with the Soviets taking 10% of Finnish territory, but as a likely apocryphal quotation from a Soviet general puts it this was “just enough territory to bury their dead”. Britain became the only democracy in the world to declare war on another democracy when it declared war on Finland during the war but in practice British involvement in the Finnish-Soviet conflict was restricted to supplies for the Soviets. After the end of the war there was some shame amongst Finns for allying with Nazi Germany but the revelations of the secret pact of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact have somewhat helped to alleviate national shame.

After the war Finland was left with a land border with the USSR leaving to a process pejoratively known as ‘Finlandisation’ whereby Finland attempted to maintain strict national sovereignty while being forced to allow the Soviets some influence over domestic and foreign policy.

Governance during the Cold War was also extraordinarily unstable due to a four party system where it was imperative to keep pro-Soviet communists and pro-American conservatives out of government to maintain Finland’s delicate balancing act. Finland is one of the few democracies where a communist party has won a general election (in 1958).

Finland still maintains one of the world’s few genuine three party system to this day, with a fourth party also increasingly powerful.

Unlike its fellow Nordic states, Finland’s left has historically tended to be comparatively weak, with the social democrats not being totally dominant, though the country maintains comparatively high levels of social equality, and the Social Democrats have still tended to be the stronger of the Big Three.

Finnish is one of the few European national languages which is not Indo-European, being a Finno-Ugric language. Due to the legacy of Swedish occupation (during which Swedish was the language of national administration) around 5.4% of Finns speak Swedish as a first language. In the main these are descendants of Finns who learned Swedish so as to get top public sector jobs, and hence Swedish speakers tend to be comparatively affluent and middle class. The Swedish speaking population is in long-term decline. From 17.5% of the population to 11.0% by 1920, the population is now only 5.4% Swedish speaking. Swedish-speakers remain a clear majority on the highly autonomous island of Aland. The country maintains generous bilingual policies and Swedish is an official language. This is an increasing source of tension as the population lowers, with Finnish-speakers increasingly irritated by the necessity to learn Swedish at school.

Like its Nordic cousins Finland ranks highly in metrics of national performance, including economic competitiveness, quality of life and human development. Historically Finland has tended to be ranked number 1 in the world for education (though it lost this in 2012) and in 2010 the American magazine Newsweek declared Finland the ‘best country in the world’.

Finland has long been one of Europe’s most feminist countries. It was the first country in the world where women had the vote (in 1905), and the first country with both an elected head of state and head of government who were women. 62% of Finland’s MEPs are women, the most female group of any EU country.

Finland’s economy was badly affected by the 2008 financial crash, with GDP falling by 7.5%.Like other Nordic states Finland has historically tended towards Euroscepticism. Eurozone bailouts have created a huge amount of animosity as Finns tend to feel that their country followed the rules, and is now having to pay for countries that did not. The result was a populist backlash at the 2011 election, with the rise of the Finns Party, a six party anti-Finns Party coalition was formed (only the Centre Party and Finns Party were excluded from government) and Finland became the only country in Europe to demand collateral for Greek bailouts.

Finland’s economic recovery has also been uneven – the country experienced a triple-dip recession last year.

Electoral System

Finland elects 13 MEPs to the European Parliament. Finland uses an open-list system whereby voters must vote for a candidate. Votes for a candidate count for parties, parties are allocated seats on the basis of the D’Hondt formula, and candidates are elected based on who has the most votes. Elections in Finland are increasingly candidate-centred and parties attempt to recruit popular well-known candidates to stand in elections at all levels.

Parties may form electoral alliances whereby their votes are pooled. Seats are thereafter handed out to parties on the basis of candidate performance, so if two parties form an alliance and only win one seat, and the smaller party has the most popular candidate that candidate will be elected irrespective of the fact that the larger party got more votes. For this reason, the Christian Democrats, who formed an alliance with the Finns Party, got a seat in 2009, whereas the Left Alliance, which formed no alliance, got no seats despite getting more votes than the Christian Democrats.

In recent years alliances have become deeply controversial and have fallen out of fashion.

2009 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats
National Coalition Party (KOK) European People’s Party 23.2% 3
Centre Party (KESK) Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 19.0% 3
Social Democratic Party (SDP) Socialists and Democrats 17.5% 2
Green League (VIHR) European Green Party 
12.4% 2
Finns Party (PS) European of Freedom and Democracy 9.8% 1
Swedish People’s Party (SFP) Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 6.1% 1
Left Alliance (VAS) European United Left/Nordic Green Left 5.9% 0
Christian Democrats (KD) European People’s Party 4.2% 1

Likely results

Finnish polls show a battle between KESK and KOK for first place and between the Finns Party and the SDP for a close third. The top three parties are likely to win 3 seats each, the fourth will likely win two. The Greens will likely lose a seat and the Left Alliance should pick one up. The Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats are likely to fall out of the Parliament.