Finland’s Center Party won the parliamentary election on Sunday while the Euroskeptic Finns Party was projected to narrowly beat Prime Minister Alexander Stubb’s conservative National Coalition into third place.
With the Social Democrats winning only 34 seats in Finland’s 200-seat legislature — down from 42 in the last election — a center-right coalition, including the Finns, seemed most likely to take over from the broad alliance that has governed the Nordic country since 2011.
The inclusion of the Finns Party could harden Finland’s stance in Europe. The country imperiled the Greek bailout program when it demanded collateral for its financial support in 2011. Both the Center Party and the Finns voted down the second Greek rescue plan when they were in opposition.
The Finns, who are also wary of immigration, are less radical than their populist counterparts in other countries, including neighboring Sweden where the main left- and right-wing parties teamed up to prevent the Sweden Democrats forcing snap elections.
Finnish voters, having gone through three years of economic contraction, are not very sympathetic to the Greeks whose new government is demanding relief from austerity at the same time it needs a fresh bailout package.
However, the domestic economy dominated the election campaign and the Finns Party fell from 19 to 17.6 percent support.
Stubb’s coalition with the Social Democrats and two smaller parties, the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party, was unable to get significant reforms done, despite broad political consensus on the need for health care and labor overhauls.
All major parties also agree public spending must come down to prevent the national debt rising over the European Union’s treaty limit of 60 percent of gross domestic product. Finland is one of few countries that has so far respected the bloc’s debt and deficit limits. Between 1996 and 2008, it managed to reduce its debt from 57 to 34 percent of economic output.
The left-right coalition’s inability to pull the economy out of recession appears to have convinced Finnish voters they’re better off falling back on a familiar model.
For much of Finland’s independent history, the Center Party (formerly the Agrarian League) and the Social Democrats alternated in power while the National Coalition seemed perennially stuck in second or third place.