On Thursday, Petteri Orpo, the leader of the conservative National Coalition party that emerged victorious in Finland’s April 2 general elections, announced the start of official negotiations for the new government coalition for Tuesday. He made the announcement at a press conference flanked by his three potential allies: the Christian Democrats, a party representing the Swedish minority and Perussuomalaiset, the “True Finns,” the country’s second-largest party, with xenophobic and sovereignist positions.
Vasemmistoliitto (Finland’s left-wing alliance) group leader Jussi Saramo was concerned, calling this prospective government alliance “the most right-wing in our history.”
In the course of less than a year, after Sweden and Italy, Finland is also about to get a full-fledged right-wing government. However, unlike in its Scandinavian neighbor (where the ultra-right supports the government but has no ministers), it’s very likely that the leader of the “True Finns,” Riikka Purra, will have a seat in the future Orpo executive. First, however, there will be the work of hammering together a program: the real test case for the future coalition, as each of the protagonists will try to secure something that would justify this alliance.
Conservative leader Orpo had begun his campaign in March by ruling out a government with the far right; however, he started opening up to this possibility in the final weeks before the vote, when polls were showing that a coalition with Purra was the only chance for him to become Prime Minister – a prediction that was confirmed at the polls. The only alternative Orpo had was to try a blue-red government with the Social Democrats of the now-former premier Sanna Marin, but that would have meant giving up on his main election promise: to cut public spending by €6 billion. Rising inflation and public debt were the topics most harped on by the center-right to criticize the outgoing center-left government. These sensitive issues, combined with the xenophobic and securitarian campaign waged by True Finns, managed to sway more than 40 percent of Finnish voters.
However, in order to reach a parliamentary majority, Orpo also needs the votes of other smaller parties. This is why the talks will also involve the Christian Democrats (longtime allies of the Conservatives) and RKP, the Swedish People’s Party of Finland, a former ally of Marin that has never had a problem bringing its ministers over from left-wing to right-wing governments and vice versa. RKP is a centrist and rural party (where the Swedish minority is concentrated, particularly in the southwest of the country), with liberal economics and part of the “Renew Europe” group of liberals in Brussels.
With the 20 or so MPs that the two small parties will supply to Orpo’s coalition, it will be possible for the conservatives and the far right to dictate the agenda for the next four years, under the banner of border crackdowns (already implemented for the border with Russia over the war in Ukraine) and, above all, cuts in public spending. The leader of the True Finns, Riikka Purra, admitted there were “big differences” between the parties, but said that the differences on the immigration and security agenda were “nothing so big that it can’t be negotiated.”
The far-right party had already been part of a government (led by centrists) from 2015 to 2017, which it left two years before the end of the term of the legislature, as it underwent an internal split. In recent years, the party has radicalized its xenophobic message, lashing out, for example, against non-Finnish-born health care workers “who make patients unsafe,” as Purra repeatedly said in the election campaign. Former Social Democratic Premier Sanna Marin (who will leave the party leadership in the summer) said she was “worried for the livelihoods of those in the weakest position,” predicting that the €6 billion cut in public spending planned by Orpo will hit solidarity subsidies, health care and public education, considered among the best in the world.