The win of the Centre Party in Finland’s recent parliamentary elections (49/200 seats) should not result in major changes in Finland’s foreign policy. However, the new strategic planning, started already during the outgoing government’s term, will continue.
The objective of this new planning is to prevent any remote possibility of similar events as witnessed in Ukraine not to be repeated in northern Europe.
In line with this national-realistic orientation of again preparing for the worst, the Centre Party together with the Finns Party (38 seats) wish to maintain Finland’s defence concept based on conscription. Simultaneously they wish to develop the capabilities of the defence forces and the overall resilience of the society. However, any Finnish application for membership in NATO is extremely unlikely during the next four years unless Sweden takes the initiative. Sweden might not. In both countries, the focus is now firmly on rebuilding national defence and deepening mutual defence cooperation, a line supported by all main parties. In Finland, only the National Coalition Party (37 seats) openly wants to see a national NATO report, which probably will be prepared during the new government’s term, to conclude the pros of membership would outnumber the cons. This lack of political support for military alignment leaves deepening military cooperation with Sweden the only currently foreseeable option.
However, as the election result favours a national orientation, it can make Finland more hesitant for new commitments on the EU level. Both the winner Centre Party and the populist Finns party (38 seats) are hesitant for paying more for the problems of ailing European banks or supporting struggling Member States with additional loans or other special measures. The winners want to see the financial institutions already built during the crisis of the Euro to counter future problems. For this end, they insist Member States should follow jointly agreed financial rules. Therefore, any request from Greece for flexibility or downscaling of its loan arrangements will receive a cold response.
With economic sanctions between the EU and Russia in force, all expectations for bolstering trade relations with Russia are downscaled in Finland. Several Finnish companies are taking a negative view of the development of markets and business environment in Russia. In fact, they are withdrawing from this market. This leaves the compatibilities between these two economies an unfulfilled prospect for years. The minimal political dialogue which the presidents of Finland and Russia strive to maintain and the continuing ‘track two’ diplomacy on the expert and NGO levels cannot repair the mutual economic damage.
Juha Sipilä, the leader of the Centre Party, is a former IT entrepreneur. He is a practical leader looking to capitalise on economic opportunities. He is likely to conclude that best economic prospects exist at home, developing the digital economy and the bio-economy sector given the agricultural roots of his party. Carried through, this would in the longer run mean less coal, oil and natural gas bought from Russia. It would not, however, exclude scientific cooperation and trade in these two expanding sectors where both Finland and Russia have unexploited potential.