Finland Shifts Right With Coalition Including an Anti-Immigration Party

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When the party of the country’s political rock star, former Prime Minister Sanna Marin, lost in April, a center-right party’s power rose.

A man in glasses stands at a lectern flanked by blue heart-shape balloons.
Petteri Orpo, leader of the conservative National Coalition Party, speaking in Helsinki in April. He is expected to become prime minister.Credit…Alessandro Rampazzo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Finland’s main conservative party announced a new coalition government on Friday after weeks of negotiations, in a deal that moves the country firmly to the right and follows a pattern of similar political shifts elsewhere in Europe.

Petteri Orpo, leader of the center-right National Coalition Party, would become prime minister under the coalition, which includes the right-wing nationalist Finns Party.

“Finland needs change,” Mr. Orpo said at a news conference on Friday. “Our prosperity is hanging in the balance.”

Assuming the coalition is approved when lawmakers vote on the prime minister in Parliament, probably next week, it will leave in opposition the more liberal Social Democratic Party led by the former prime minister Sanna Marin, who became a political rock star during her tenure. The new government is expected to introduce an era of financial belt-tightening and stricter immigration policies.

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A National Coalition Party election event in Helsinki in April. The party claimed a narrow win in the voting.Credit…Alessandro Rampazzo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Despite popular support for Ms. Marin’s handling of issues such as the war in Ukraine and Finland’s joining NATO, the election in April largely hinged on economic concerns like high inflation and rising public debt. Right-leaning parties made gains by focusing on worries about the country’s financial situation and by calling previous migration policies too permissive. They also criticized high spending on the welfare system.

The National Coalition Party, led by Mr. Orpo, promoted a conservative economic agenda, including cuts to some housing allowances and unemployment benefits, and claimed a narrow victory, with 20.8 percent of the vote. The Finns Party came second, at 20.0 percent, campaigning on pledges to cut immigration, reduce financial contributions to the European Union and slow down action on climate change. The Social Democrats were third, with 19.9 percent, underlining the closeness of the vote.

Other European countries have tacked to the right in recent years, including Italy, which is governed by a coalition under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, leader of a party with post-Fascist roots; Sweden, which in September swapped a center-left government for a right-wing bloc; and Spain, which will hold a snap national election next month after the Socialist Workers’ Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was thumped in regional and local elections.

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Representatives of the coalition parties, from left: Anna-Maja Henriksson of the Swedish People’s Party, Mr. Orpo, Riikka Purra of the Finns Party and Sari Essayah of the Christian Democrats.Credit…Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After no party reached a majority in Parliament, National Coalition Party leaders began efforts to form a government in talks that would stretch for weeks. Mr. Orpo said the negotiations lasted so long because the potential coalition partners were trying to decide where to make onerous spending cuts and how to increase revenue. Mr. Orpo ultimately struck a deal with the Finns, but also with two other smaller parties which got about 4 percent of the vote each.

One is the Swedish People’s Party, which aims to represent Finland’s minority Swedish-speaking population. The party, which is centrist, pro-European and socially liberal, was also part of Ms. Marin’s government.

The other party in the coalition is the Christian Democrats, a center-right group.

On Thursday, representatives of the parties gave a joint news conference to announce that they had reached consensus on a government program.

“We have been able to find accord under heavy pressure,” Mr. Orpo said. “What unites us is that we want to fix Finland.”

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Helsinki, the capital of Finland, last year. The election in April largely hinged on economic concerns.Credit…Juho Kuva for The New York Times

The new coalition plans to bring down the debt level by implementing measures such as cutting subsidies, according to the program.

Direct cuts to public spending would amount to €4 billion, or $4.37 billion, Mr. Orpo said at the news conference on Friday.

“This is not easy,” he added. “We have to make cuts where it feels bad.”

The coalition also vowed to halve the number of refugees that Finland accepts every year, to 500, from about 1,000, and in general to take a harder stance on immigration.

The coalition also committed to keep Finland’s military spending in line with NATO’s goal of at least 2 percent of gross domestic product and to promote membership in the alliance for both Sweden and Ukraine.

Some formal steps still need to be taken before the new government is installed, but Jenni Karimaki, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, said that, with the details already ironed out by the parties in the coalition, she did not expect any last-minute changes.

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Mr. Orpo campaigning in Vantaa, Finland, in April. “Finland needs change,” he said at a news conference on Friday. “Our prosperity is hanging in the balance.”Credit…Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva, via Reuters

Mr. Orpo, 53, has already served in past administrations as finance minister and deputy prime minister and has held several other ministerial roles. He is now poised to take the top job.

Known for being a compromiser and a negotiator and for having an austere approach to public finances, Mr. Orpo’s style contrasts with that of his predecessor.

“Finland’s prosperity cannot be based on debt,” he said on Friday.

Ms. Marin, 37, gained a global profile for her defense of Ukraine and for her off-duty activities, too, having been caught on private videos partying with her friends, creating some debate within Finland about the appropriateness of her behavior.

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