Finland: Orpos Uphill Path To A New Government

Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party came first in elections but fell short of the majority needed to form a government on their own.

Having emerged as the strongest leader in last month’s parliamentary election, Petteri Orpo, head of Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party (NCP), now faces the daunting task of crafting a coalition government. The April 2 elections ousted the center-left government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats. Orpo’s team is already talking to the Finns, an extreme right-wing grouping historically opposed to the country’s EU membership and to progressive immigration laws, but which won the second-largest number of seats.

Orpo, who has garnered a reputation in Finnish and European politics as an astute political player and bridge-builder, will need to marshal every bit of his skill set to construct a coalition with a minimum 108-seat majority. The challenge is compounded, given that all the mainstream parties and candidates who could plausibly join the NCP in a new government are either against or reluctant to be on the same team with the Finns.

The most likely direction for Orpo to take would be to forge a center-right government in partnership with the Finns, the Swedish People’s Party (nine seats) and the Christian Democrats (five seats). The SPP and the Finns are not seen as a good political fit, given their broad differences on immigration, climate action, public finances, national debt management, and protecting the cultural rights of Finland’s minority Swedish-speaking community.  

“We are poles apart from the Finns on immigration, and diverge significantly on key issues like climate action and the status of the Swedish language in Finland,” says Anna-Maja Henriksson, chair of the SPP. “For us to enter government, the Finns must accept this country needs immigrants. The age pyramid in Finland is such that this economy cannot function long-term without immigration.”

The Finns, for their part, are thought to be open to substantial compromises, trading much of their right-wing ideology for a seat at the cabinet table. Party leader Riikka Purra says the Finns recognizes the economy’s need for foreign workers, but is pushing for a skills-based immigration solution.

“We can work well with the National Coalition,” says Purra. “We [and the NCP] are two right-wing parties and share common positions and ambitions. Our views on immigration are the specific area that separates the Finns from all other parties. We are prepared to listen with an open mind to the views of others in the government formation talks.”