Reflecting on the EU elections in Finland

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“The significance of the European elections for domestic politics should not be over-estimated,” writes Aaretti Siitonen, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, in a May paper.

“The European elections can always be seen as a function of domestic politics,” but their role in this regard should not be overstated, according to Siitonen.

Rivalry between Finland’s two major governing parties, the Centre Party and the centre-right National Coalition Party, is deepening. The Coalition Party “is now for the first time in its history the most popular political party in Finland,” he writes.

“National sentiment is on the rise in Finland,” he continues, reflected in the governing Centre Party’s election rhetoric: “In his May Day speech, Prime Minister Vanhanen denounced EU flags and hymns, saying that Finns are impressed rather by having a place at the table where decisions are made.”

“This is typical of the Centre Party’s emphasis on the practical benefits of EU membership,” Siitonen adds.

“The Eurosceptic role in Finland is assumed mainly by the True Finns Party, a national-conservative movement, which is eating away at both the Social Democrats (SDP) and Centre Party support,” he writes.

The SDP is “the third largest party in Finland”. It “stands to gain from the economic crisis only if they can offer credible alternatives to current policies,” he says.

“Finland previously held 14 seats in the EP, but now, with only 13, it seems likely that at least one of the smaller parties will not attain a representative,” he adds.

“The Green League […] is set to retain its seat or even gain one seat, whereas the Swedish People’s Party and the Left Alliance, whose MEPs are not standing for re-election, will certainly lose their seats,” Siitonen predicts.

Finland comprises one constituency with an open-ballot voting system. “This makes the elections less party-centred than in countries with closed or ordered ballots, such as France or Sweden,” he says. 

Low turnout

In the 2004 poll, turnout in Finland was only 41.1% (compared with an average of 46% in the 25 EU countries). “This was, however, a considerable improvement on the 1999 elections, where Finnish turnout was a meagre 31.4%,” the researcher writes.

“The EU is facing a crisis of confidence and legitimacy. The elections will reverse or strengthen this trend,” he says.

“A low turnout in the European elections would not be a catastrophe for the EU, but it would be likely to further hamper the perceived legitimacy, not only of the Parliament itself, but also of the supranational nature of EU decision-making,” argues the paper.

“Thirteen MEPs will be chosen from Finland, but if turnout remains low, their mandates will be less meaningful and the elections’ implications for domestic politics lessened,” Siitonen concludes. 

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