The Progressive Post

🇫🇮 Finland: a red-green tide has washed away the far right

FINLAND

Partner and chairman of the board of Rud Pedersen Public Affairs Finland
13/06/2024

Although the mightiest political machine of Finland – the EPP-affiliated National Coalition Party – marched with convincing numbers to their 6th EP election victory in a row, the greatest news was the total collapse of the far-right populist Finns Party and record-breaking numbers of the GUE-NGL-affiliated Left Alliance. It seems that the far-right can be, if not beaten, at least demobilised.

The 2024 EP elections in Finland were a one-party and one-woman show with the National Coalition Party (EPP) scoring convincing 24.8 per cent of the vote and increasing the number of their MEPs from three to four. The even bigger news was the result of the Left Alliance. The party, usually polling around eight to nine per cent and fighting for the position of fifth-sixth largest party overtook all competitors except the National Coalition with 17.3 per cent (+10,4 per cent) which brought them three MEPs (+2). This was also the first time in over 40 years when the far-left party overtook the Social Democrats, who scored far below their poll numbers and ended up third with 14.9 per cent (2 MEPs, no changes). 

The Left Alliance’s victory was due to the candidacy of their out-going chairperson Li Andersson. Andersson was the minister of education in the recent centre-left government led by Saana Marin. She scored almost 250,000 individual votes (13 per cent of all casted votes), which was more than the ALDE-related Centre Party or the populist Finns Party candidates together. This is, by far, the record of personal votes in Finnish political history. 

As surprising as the surge of the far left, was the total collapse of ECR-affiliated far-right. The Finns Party gained only 7.6 per cent of the total vote, losing almost half (-6,2 per cent) of their support since last EP elections. The party will send only one MEP to Brussels (-1). 

The reasons for the surprising results lie, firstly, in low turn-out. Only 42.7 per cent of eligible voters turned out. This is exceptionally low, even lower than in the EP elections of 2019 and it falls far behind national elections. As always, this favours the traditional right-wing parties since their more educated and affluent voters are more likely to vote. Populist and left-wing voters, especially those of the Social Democrats are more likely to stay home if there are no apparent reasons to vote. The campaign did not convince voters either: all the talk was about Finnish positions concerning the potential joint financing of industrial policy and security investments, EU interference with Finnish forestry and the possible cooperation of the mainstream centre-right with the populist far-right at the European level. 

The current Finnish right-to-far-right coalition government has introduced heavy austerity measures, lowered income tax, raised VAT and it is pushing through game-changing regulatory initiatives in the labour market. Especially National Coalition supporters find these policies favourable and the support for the party has remained solid. On the contrary, the Finns Party support has decreased during the government term by one fifth. 

It seems, that once in power, the possibility to present oneself as a protest party and as an alternative is difficult even for a populist party. The Finns are relatively positive towards the EU and tend to favour candidates who ‘can get job done’ in Brussels. Without a clear spearheading figure who could intellectually challenge the ‘elites’, with trust eroding to the change the Finns Party has been advocating and allow general level of interest in European affairs, this meant that the potential voters of the Finns Party stayed home at record numbers, with some perhaps switching to the Christian Democrats and the National Coalition who were presenting former security policy professionals in their candidate ranks.

Social Democrats can learn an even more important lesson from the success of the Left Alliance. The party’s campaign, and even more Andersson’s, was highly visible, logical, content-oriented and argumentative. Whereas Social Democrats rather trusted strong regional candidates and hoped for a general distrust towards the government and a windfall for them as the main party of the opposition, the Left Alliance offered more concrete policy and value proposals to the electorate. Andersson was able to create similar momentum around her candidacy as former SDP leader Sanna Marin around her own personality – capturing a phenomenon. 

The result also shows that Finland has relatively large red-green voter group – mainly younger urban voters where women are overrepresented – who are very mobile between the Greens, the Left Alliance, and the Social Democrats. Sanna Marin was able to capitalise these votes for the Social Democrats in the general election of 2023, Pekka Haavisto as a Green candidate in the2024 presidential elections and Li Andersson for the Left Alliance now in EP elections. These people look for clear value proposals, charisma and the best symbolic way to counter the rising far-right tide. But it seems, that only claiming that you will stand in between the far right and political power is not enough. You also need to present a trusted leader-figure and clear value and policy proposals. This is an audience which is both tactical – and critical. 

Photo Credits: Shutterstock.com/IraNiva

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