Now security policy is a factor in Finland’s general election

#CriticalThinking

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Teija Tiilikainen
Teija Tiilikainen

Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Finland is different, or that at least was the view of many when Finland along with Sweden and Austria joined the EU in 1995. These Cold War neutrals were expected to obstruct the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP), yet Finland had in fact joined the club to get its firm security backing.

With Helsinki therefore an unambiguous supporter of the CSDP, the EU’s importance in security terms has now taken on a very concrete nature because of the Ukraine crisis. And with Finland going to the polls in April, Finnish politicians have not been slow to note that European solidarity has been a NATO strength, in contrast to the EU’s lesser efforts to bolster defence co-operation. The EU’s capabilities are limited to economic and political sanctions, so more and more Finns are asking themselves “what if sanctions are not enough?”

The apparent need to strengthen Finland’s co-operation in security policy has led to partisan differences in the political parties’ general election campaigns. The ruling conservative National Coalition has strengthened its pro-NATO stance, with its leader Prime Minister Alexander Stubb now stressing his own readiness to take Finland into NATO. He is promoting a stronger Nordic co-operation by suggesting there should be a joint report with Sweden on NATO membership.

The conservatives are at present alone among the four largest parties to adopt a pro-NATO position, but it has seen popular support for its stance rise from 20 to 30% since the onset of Ukraine crisis. Nevertheless, two other major parties, the rural Centre Party – currently leading in the opinion polls – and the Social Democrat Party are sticking to the security policy cornerstones of credible national defence arrangements and EU membership.

Although defence co-operation advances only slowly in the EU context, bi-lateral co-operation between Finland and Sweden is looking more promising. There is fertile ground in both countries for stronger defence co-operation, but for different reasons. Sweden’s defence weaknesses have been revealed by its own reform programme, while Finnish analyses of the country’s geopolitical position suggest that any form of defence co-operation within Europe and across the transatlantic that fails short of full NATO membership would be very welcomed.

In both countries, though, there are severe political constraints, and the outcome of Finland’s parliamentary elections certainly won’t be decisive in security terms. The NATO issue will gain greater visibility if the conservatives are still in the government, and that might have an effect on attitudes in the Centre Party, which is expected to lead the next coalition. And one result of focus on security is that the eurosceptic True Finns party won’t be able to rock the boat as in previous elections because Finland’s heightened security needs make EU membership much less vulnerable to criticism than before.

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