Finland's Social Democratic Party (SDP) coming third in Sunday's Finnish parliamentary elections was the result of leader, and outgoing prime minister, Sanna Marin, was the result of her inability to press into action foreign policy successes in order to trump domestic issues, Kristi Raik, director of the Foreign Policy Institute (Välispoliitika Instituut) finds.
Marin also answered critics of her government's economic policy inadequately, Raik finds.
Appearing on ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" Monday, Raik said that while there is a strong consensus in Estonia's northern neighbor when it comes to defense and security – the country's formal accession to NATO coincided with Marin's electoral defeat – the main focus in the pre-election debates was economic matters, and it is this that likely resulted in her party finishing behind the National Coalition Party (NCP), and the Finns Party.
Support for Ukraine was not a differentiating factor for Marin, either, and is held by parties of all hues – much as it was in Estonia in the lead in to last month's general election.
"Finns (as in the people not just the party of the same name-ed.) strongly believe in strong support for Ukraine, but this is the strongly-held viewpoint of all the parties," Raik said.
"This meant that Marin could not use it as a trump card towards domestic politics, while the NCP was successful in moving pre-election debates on to economic matters, and was very critical of the government (a coalition comprising the Centre Party, the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People's Party, in addition to the SDP-ed.) in relation to that – national debt in Finland has risen dramatically in recent years, which concerns many Finns greatly," she went on.
"Plus, I think what was also fatal for the SDP and the entire governing coalition was that they did not have sufficient convincing answers to the criticism of the opposition on these issues, on economic policy issues," she went on.
The Finns, who finished second to NCP and are generally a populist party, would not bring radical changes to Finland's current course, however, even if they do end up in coalition, Raik went on.
"With regard to economic matters, it would be easier to form a right-wing coalition,; NCP's and the Finns' propositions lie very close to each other, though at at the same time, there remain very sharp disagreements between the right-wing political parties regarding policy towards the EU; the Finns state that their goal is for Finland to leave the European Union," she went on.
Migrant labor is another issue which NCP has focused on, but while Finland's economy will need more in future, the Finns have consistently been anti-immigration, and are alone among Finland's major political parties on this score.
Raik also noted divisions among the right on the climate change issue.
Raik: Hungary, Turkey demands caused much consternation in Finnish, Swedish society
The demands of Hungary and Turkey have caused discomfort in Finland and Sweden
Finland finally getting the go-ahead from both Turkey and Hungary is essential, relative to the progress made by Sweden, Raik added.
Sweden continues to be blocked in its membership by the leadership of the same two countries, but on the other hand, Finnish accession from the point of view of defense and security and NATO's defense of the Baltic Sea region was even more crucial than Sweden's, Raik said.
The divergence will not have a negative effect on defensive cooperation between the two neighboring countries – Finland was long under Swedish rule before becoming a province of Tsarist Russia after the Napoleonic Wars, and continues to be home to a Swedish-speaking minority.
"This situation is viewed as a temporary way-stage, while Finland has also managed to take the step of detaching itself from Sweden in respect of joining NATO, but without, it could be said, having damaged bilateral relations [with Sweden."
Nonetheless the public pronouncements from Budapest and Ankara have caused much angst in both Sweden and Finland, Raik noted.
"It must be said that it has caused quite a painful debate in both Finnish and Swedish society. The perception is that Turkey and Hungary, two authoritarian countries, under Erdogan and Orban, have managed to create a certain degree of self-censorship in Finland and Sweden. This is definitely temporary, however. Once Finland and Sweden become NATO member states, then there is no reason to continue with it. Nonetheless, it has been an uncomfortable observation for many Finns and Swedes," said Raik.
One of Ankara's main gripes was in Sweden's harboring of alleged terrorists including from Kurdish groups, while Budapest, it is though, has been using the hold-out to gain leverage in negotiations on funding from an entirely separate supra-national body, the EU; perceptions over the treatment by Kyiv of the Hungarian-speaking minority in the very far West of Ukraine may also have played a part.
The Foreign Policy Institute is a part of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS).
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael