Populist tide still rising high in Finland

julkaistu 23. 10.2012 brittiläisen ajatushautomon Policy Networkin kotisivuilla osana kuukausittaista State of the Left -sarjaa.

With municipal elections taking place in 3 weeks, the polls in Finland have seen the continuing rise of the True Finns party at the expense of almost all other parties. The True Finns are currently fighting for 3rd place with the traditional municipal political force the Centre Party, right behind the main government parties, the rightist Kokoomus and the Social Democrats.

The gap has closed in the last few weeks, and in any case it seems unavoidable that the True Finns will almost triple their numbers on the municipal councils across the country. They have already made significant gains in presenting candidates in almost every municipality in Finland, exceeding even their own expectations.

If the final results end up as the polls currently suggest it will be a major change in the Finnish political landscape, resulting in a much more fragmented political system at the municipality level of governance. The future political outcome also remains a mystery, since the True Finn’s political line at the local level has much more to do with personalities than the actual policies of the party.

The leader of the party, Mr. Timo Soini, has declared these municipal elections as an elections on Europe and the euro crisis and Finland’s response to it. As absurd as this might sound, it has gained a certain ground as a symbolic issue. At the same time when the government is planning it’s much-criticized municipal reforms and public services in many municipalities are finding  themselves under funded, the message which states that Finnish peoples’ “hard-earned money” is being shipped to the Mediterranean in support of the faltering euro project, finds a willing audience. The euro crisis and the proposed antidotes are symbols and examples of an estranged political elite, far removed from normal citizens and their concerns.

The outcome of the upcoming municipal elections will thus surely have an influence on the national agenda. The main centre of attention will concern the fate of the municipal reforms presented by the six-party coalition government. True Finn gains might not endanger these reforms, since the other opposition party and the traditional flag-bearers of agrarian Finland, the Centre Party, are expected to fare especially poorly in these elections. This is because the True Finn candidate gains have been made primaril in their countryside strongholds.

Although the Centre Party has made opposing municipal reforms their only focus in the campaign, they have found it hard to be seen as a force capable of stopping the reforms altogether since the whole reform agenda was originally initiated during their long reign in power. The replacement of one opposing force with another will not make much difference if the government parties can keep their own ranks in order.

The likely True Finn surge will most probably not have very significant consequences on the already hard Finnish line on the euro crisis. Finnish Minister of Finance and Social Democratic Party chairwoman, Jutta Urpilainen has already stated before that Finland will not support the leveraging of the ESM and for the government to change their position, the issue would first have to pass the Finnish parliament.

As the election draws near no clear domestic “big” topic has yet emerged to take the attention away from the Europe .Unless such a big issues emerges to steal the limelight, this will, in all cases, work in favor of the True Finns since they represent the “natural pole” of this discussion.

But what is significant in all this is the result from one recent study which shows the Finnish public still sees Europe and the EU as important. A clear majority of citizens still favor both EU and euro membership. Their opinions have grown more critical towards the content of European policies, but they still see European cooperation as an important tool.

This provides an important lesson for political decision-makers. Finnish people do not, as a whole, wish to depart the European project. They now simply view the current state and direction of European cooperation through a more critical lense. This suggests that constructive criticism of the current content of EU policies has a possibility to attract support. At the program and action level, the Finnish Social Democrats would be in a best position to present such options, but these elections look like coming too early and too focused on the bail-out packages for this discussion to begin.

Mainokset

Are Finns showing their ”True” colors?

julkaistu 30.8.2012 brittiläisen Policy Network -ajatushautomon kotisivuilla.

Narrow national interests led Finland to join the EU. Now those same narrow national interests are shaping Finland’s domestic political response to the Euro crisis

The Finnish political landscape witnessed a seismic shift in the 2011 general elections, when the populist anti-EU party Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) became the third largest political force in the country with a landslide of 19,1% of the total vote (+15% points) under their hugely popular party leader, Mr Timo Soini.

Their surge had already been predicted in the polls, but was seen in its full force only on election evening, with the rise of the True Finns and the concurrent demise of the Centre Party from being formerly the biggest party to 4th place. After the elections the True Finns assumed the role of leading opposition party, concentrating their opposition policy on European issues.

As with the rest of the Finnish political landscape in general, the True Finns party is difficult to categorize and is often simply put in the continuum of the rising far-right forces in Europe. First of all, their background is in the former Finnish Rural Party (SMP) which experienced a similar surge in the elections in the early 70’s. The rhetoric and topics of the current True Finn party are a mirror of their SMP predecessors. SMP campaigned with anti-elitist and anti-establisment rhetoric and under a charismatic leader, Mr Veikko Vennamo. They got most of their support from low-income rural families, which have traditionally been the core base for the Centre Party vote.

In this way, it is very difficult to stamp the True Finns as simply another far-right party. It is true, that the party holds within it’s ranks MPs convicted for “hate speech” against minorities and believers of Islam and that the growing number of Finnish anti-immigrant groups have found homes in it. MP Mr Jussi Halla-aho is the most visible member of this wing. Halla-aho`s politics can be seen as part of the European Counter-Jihad movement, which has been built around the claim, seen tragically elsewhere in Europe, that we are witnessing the “Islamization of Europe”.

The True Finns also contain a strong element of old SMP-style politicians, who present themselves as the “voice of the forgotten/basic normal people”. Their rhetoric draws a distinction between the people (True Finns) vs the Elite (all established political forces). The European Union, the Euro and immigration are then taken as examples of the ways in which this perceived elite is “lying” to the people, making them the guinea pigs for the elites’ ideological pursuits.

The True Finns have in very many ways adopted the role of a social-conservative, nationalist anti-establishment party. They, at least at the programme level, are leaning left in tax policies and are heavily criticizing the retrenchment of the welfare state. At the same time they have been aggressively advocating against many symbolically important issues such as proposals concerning same-sex marriage and euthanasia. In this way they have subsumed also the religious themes traditionally occupied by the small Christian Democratic Party.

However, these “stands” are also very much the personal opinions of the party’s leader and it is questionable how much they actually drive individual party MP’s or local council members. For starters, the anti-immigration wing of the party is, by contrast, advocating very neo-liberal economic policies.

The True Finns influence on other parties has been a big debate in the Finnish media. In particular, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has been criticized by its political opponents for adopting positions and ways of doing politics closer to the True Finns than used to be the case before the True Finns spectacular rise. This has, however, not been seen in image polling, where the SDP, currently the minor party in the ruling coalition, is still considered as a responsible party of government by the general public.

It is however notable, that the Finnish SDP has been adopting a more critical stand towards the current state of the EU. This can be seen best in the way the Finnish government has demanded collateral for its support of the rescue packages designed for financially troubled EU member states. The SDP has also sharpened its own political message while being a party of government. This has been a cause of concern to the prime minister’s party, the centre-right Kokoomus (National Coalition Party), which after a long reign in polls, is increasingly being challenged by the resurgent SDP.

It is a matter of debate whether this change has to do with the reaction to the True Finns’ rise, or because of a genuine policy renewal of the SDP itself. There has been growing disillusionment concerning the current state of the union policies within the party, and also among the general public, over the last years. The bail-out packages have been seen as the rescue of the big banks and investors, not the people and the welfare systems. Many within the SDP ranks have been interested in a union with stronger powers to contain market forces, not to keep on liberating them and paying for the dysfunctions with the taxpayer’s purse.

This does not, however, remove the fact that the current SDP/Finnish line towards the EU and the euro crisis maintains a strong national benefit element and is directed more by a national than a European interest. This could be interpreted as a phenomena influenced by the True Finns, and as a line which can’t stand genuinely intellectual scrutiny, if seen from the European perspective. Finland lacks a response to the crisis as a whole, and seems to be more than fine with this fact, focusing on its own interest in a quite narrow way.

Working class comeback

Artikkeli julkaistu ruotsalaisessa Dagens Arena -verkkolehdessä 21.4.2012.

The first anniversary of the Finnish six-pack coalition and the return of the Social Democrats to the government is approaching. This first year has seen major decisions taking place, especially when it comes to the economy, the labour market and European policies. But what is even more relevant is the re-emergence of the Finnish trade union movement at the centre of economic and social policy preparation.

In previous years, pension policy and retirement age questions have dominated the Finnish social policy debate. Traditionally these issues have been prepared and adopted by tripartite cooperation between state, employers and trade unions. This was the case when Finland last renewed its pension system in 2005, when the lowest age of retirement was lowered to 63 years, but at the same time significant incentives were created to encourage individuals to voluntarily prolong their careers to 68 years. The result was a flexible work-leaving age, which was accompanied with a pact on the future of pension contributions and the introduction of other reforms such as a life expectancy coefficient which encourages – or effectively forces – younger generations to stay longer in the labour market.

This tripartite cooperation suffered a serious rupture when the previous right-wing government, under Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen from the Centre Party, unilaterally declared that the lowest retirement age should be lifted to 65 years. This maneuver quickly froze the relations between trade unions and the government. Although the government retreated and handed down the issue to be negotiated with the social partners, mistrust ran deep.

After the Centre Party suffered defeat in the 2011 general election, the trade union movement has made a significant comeback to the tables where decisions are made. First the new government urged the social partners to negotiate a major pact concerning salary policy for the future. The so-called frame treaty, which gives guidelines for different sectors on the future costs of labor, was signed between the main confederations and then adjusted in union level negotiations. This new model of a nation-wide treaty was achieved, although the employer side had previously stated that the era of cross-sector collective agreements would be over.

The frame treaty was followed by a tripartite deal concerning future funding of pensions and the prolongment of careers. A whole package of activities is expected to raise the effective age of retirement by one year. One important innovation, which was also agreed upon, is the so-called youth guarantee, which makes sure that every young person leaving school will receive a place in employment, education or training.

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The next occasion in which a similar kind of “working class comeback” can be seen, will be the SDP congress in May.  There will be no candidate to challenge the current party leader Jutta Urpilainen, but on the lower levels the ground is shaking.

Positions of all three vice-presidents and the party secretary general will be contested, and it is likely that all incumbent vice-presidents will face strong challenges. Since the party congress in 2007 the leadership of the party has faced criticism retarding their visibility and the degree to which they are ‘in touch’ with the party’s more traditional and grassroots, salaried workers. It would now seem likely that the Congress will opt for more “traditional-looking” and sounding politicians.

The hunt for “something more familiar” can be seen also in the quest for a new Secretary General. The incumbent, Mikael Jungner, who was elected two years ago with great expectations after his politically motivated removal from his job as the CEO of the Finnish public broadcasting company YLE, is voluntarily standing down. He has publically stated that the reason is the SDP’s poor performance in the last presidential elections. Other sources claim though, that the tensions between him and the local level had grown so strong, that it would have been hard for him to continue.

It is obvious that although SDP is in a need of a lot of work in the improvement of its policies and the development of a distinct ideological vision for the future, this discussion has so far been in practice non-existent. The new party leadership will also need ways of improving the content of the SDP’s core messages of work and social justice in the October local elections. Mere organizational attention will not be enough.

Finland’s social democratic election hangover

julkaistu 9.2.2011 brittiläisen ajatushautomon Policy Networkin kotisivuilla.

As in Sweden, the Finnish left succumb to a social-liberal, centre-right catch-all party that has successfully claimed the middle-ground

On Sunday 5 February, Finland got its 12th President. The conservative National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) candidate, Sauli Niinistö, was elected by a landslide of 62.4% against his Green Party opponent Pekka Haavisto in the second round of the presidential elections.

Observers familiar with Finnish political history might well ask the whereabouts of the Social Democratic candidate come the second round of voting. After all, the last three presidents, Mauno Koivisto, Martti Ahtisaari and Tarja Halonen, have all been Social Democrats, between them representing 30 years of social democratic leadership.

This election was a disaster for the social democratic candidate, former prime minister Paavo Lipponen, who got only 6.7% of the total vote in the first round run-off. Even the total combined support of the Finnish traditional left, the Social Democrats and the successor party of the once-strong Communists, the Left Alliance, would not have carried a candidate to the second round.

To understand the reasons behind the social democratic demise, we first have to look at the candidates. This was Niinistö’s second time running, having been narrowly beaten by incumbent president Halonen in 2006. His popularity ratings soared after this narrow defeat and he continued to poll well during the whole lead up to this year’s elections.

Niinistö has a history as a tough player on the economy. He was the minister of finance and chairman of his party during the late 1990s when the coalition government led by Social Democrats steered Finland out of its most severe economic recession in history. After a brief absence he returned as speaker of the parliament, using this new role very effectively by introducing many ideas categorised as populist, but which were popular among ordinary Finns and gave him the much-needed opportunity to stand out from his party.

Niinistö’s personal rise mirrors that of his party, Kokoomus, which has successfully captured the middle-ground of Finnish politics. The former socially conservative, economically neo-liberal party for the upper classes has evolved, as in Sweden, towards a social-liberal, centre-right catch-all party. This strategic shift was very much formulated by current prime minister Jyrki Katainen when in opposition.

Social democratic candidate Paavo Lipponen on the other hand, clearly possessed the most experience in European issues and foreign policy, both realms where the president still wields considerable influence. So why did he score so miserably?

Firstly, he failed to differentiate himself from the early favourite, Niinistö. They were the main duo in the governments of 1995-2003, and considered politically very close. When Lipponen entered the race he was, although a veteran and a political heavyweight, clearly a challenger. When he was then unable to formulate a clear, symbolically important position which would have stood against Niinistö, the electorate remained uninspired.

The heritage of Lipponen’s prime ministerial tenure is disputed among Finnish progressives. These eight years saw an economic miracle, rapidly rising employment, improvement to the Finnish economy, lowering foreign debt and the rise of Finland as the international example both in education and as the dynamic future information and innovation economy. But they also saw the widening gap between the rich and poor in society and the entering of market mechanisms to the public services.

Lipponen was also seen as the main architect of Finland’s very integration-oriented European policy, including the introduction of the Euro. In times of bail-out packages and the chaotic euro rescue operation, this didn’t favour the candidate. This has also left him politically isolated since the Social Democratic Party has, under its chairwoman and incumbent finance minister, Jutta Urpilainen, revised its European policies and has been clearly more critical towards the Euro rescue operations, especially in Greece.

Lost momentum was also a major factor. From the beginning of the campaign it was fairly obvious that Niinistö would reach a second round and interest soon shifted onto who would be his most likely opponent. For a long time the polls were stagnant, but it was the campaign of the Green Party candidate, Pekka Haavisto, which was able to read the signs and exploit the situation.

The Greens are undeniably one of Finland’s smaller parties, but enjoy considerable support in big cities and among young, educated people. Haavisto’s campaign was extremely successful in the media and his rise in the polls created a phenomenon, which became self-fulfilling. Progressive voters, already uninspired by a social democrat campaign that found it hard to market a 70-year old former prime minister as a fresh alternative, saw Haavisto as the most-likely challenger from the non-Niinistö block and started to group behind him. For these reasons the Lipponen campaign was doomed to fail.

Sorting through the rubble

So where does the result leave the Finnish social democracy and the SDP? The answer isn’t absolutely clear as personality-centric presidential elections do not precisely replicate party support, but certain conclusions can already be made with confidence.

First is, that the Social Democratic core vote has become obsolete and party loyalty has dropped to its lowest point. Each vote will have to be hard-won again. A fragmented core vote means the Social Democrats will find it hard to set the agenda in a way which would make the SDP attractive to both traditional employee voters and young social liberal-minded educated people.

The party is also losing trust and lacks a clear identity, both co-dependant factors. Finnish social democracy has proven vulnerable when cultural identities have become more important in determining voter behavior. Who is a Finnish social democrat? This question is becoming increasingly hard to answer.

After the SDP lost elections in 2007 and remained in opposition, the actions of the party have been guided by the urgent need of renewal. But without a clear vision of what this renewal would mean politically, the policy revision has looked more like a collection of separate positions without a unifying idea, rather than a coherent set of policies aimed towards fulfillment of a set of values.

When the ideological picture of the party is blurred, the identity problem worsens. At the same time, trust towards the party will suffer among the electorate. If trust is not regained, even popular or genuinely innovative policy ideas, which the SDP maintains, will not receive electoral support.

A final conclusion, one which has often been overlooked, is the strong grip the centre-right has on Finnish society. For decades the National Coalition Party was the third biggest party, and in permanent opposition. Now it has been the biggest political force in four consecutive elections, leading the current government, adding a newly-elected president, and is clearly topping the polls before the municipal elections due to be held in October 2012.

The left has been too keen to discredit this success on the growing individualism, crooked media and light and irresponsible attitude of many people concerned with politics. But this lazy analysis misses the point that the image of the party has actually changed in people’s minds. Kokoomus is trusted most by the electorate on economic and employment issues. This is due to their rather collaborative and cooperation-oriented outlook, good control of policies and message and also the revision of their most disliked policies. Their political message is very much value-oriented, and not position-oriented, aimed to minimise the obstacles to become their supporter. This was central to Niinistö’s campaign.

There is a need for the Social Democrats to pay attention to the lessons that the successive centre-right victories give. The party must strengthen their identity in a way which is inclusive, not exclusive, and rediscover their core values and commitments if they are to succeed again.

Right-Wing White and Seven Dwarves

Artikkeli julkaistu Dagens Arenan Krönika-sarjassa 15.1.2012.

Finland is getting ready for the first round of its presidential elections, which will take place on 22nd of January. The incumbent president, Mrs Tarja Halonen, is stepping down after her 12 years in office. She is ineligible for re-election, having served the maximum two terms.

Last three presidents after the long reign of Mr Urho Kekkonen, have been Social Democrats. These include Mr Mauno Koivisto (1982-1994), Nobel Peace Prize winner Mr Martti Ahtisaari (1994-2000) and Mrs Halonen (2000-2012). When the first round now approaches, there is a clear poll lead for National Coalition Party Kokoomus candidate Mr Sauli Niinistö. Niinistö is the ex- Minister for Finance and ex-Speaker of the Parliament, who was the main competitor of Mrs Halonen already in the 2006 elections.

If necessary, the second round will be held on 5 February. It will be held if no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first round. The two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the second round. There are total 8 candidates in the elections, representing all parties in the parliament. The front runner in all polls has been Mr Niinistö, although his ratings have been in decline. Last poll published by Taloustutkimus on 5th of January gave him 37%, which would indicate that he will not be able to secure victory on the first round.

Behind the early favourite there are the candidates of other parties. It has been considered, that four competitors, Centre Party candidate Mr Paavo Väyrynen, Social Democratic candidate, former Prime Minister (1995-2003) Mr Paavo Lipponen, Green Party candidate Mr Pekka Haavisto and the True Finns candidate Mr Timo Soini, have a chance to enter the 2nd round against Niinistö. Other candidates, who have been considered to be involved more because of the visibility gained for parties than to actually seriously compete about the post include Left Alliance candidate, current Minister for Culture and Sports Mr Paavo Arhinmäki, Svenska Folkpartiet candidate Mrs Eva Biaudet and Christian Democrat Mrs Sari Essayah.

As the election draws closer, the main runner up has been the Green Party candidate Haavisto. Recognized peace negotiator, openly homosexual Haavisto, has been able to mobilize younger voters with liberal values. His campaign has been energetic and succeeded in uniting educated people in the political centre behind him. Last poll put him already to 2nd place with total 8,3% support.

Because of the election system also tactical voting plays a role. Voters favoring progressive values might feel the urge to vote for a candidate most likely to enter 2nd round and drop away more disfavoured candidates. Haavisto, with his rising support, might gain from this.

Other surprising rising candidate has been Mr Paavo Väyrynen from the Centre Party Keskusta. Väyrynen, who has been a minister in four different decades and a star of thousands of cartoons and scandals, has been able to reverse the downward trend of the Centre Party.

Centre Party, which was severely beaten in parliamentary elections and lost its place as the leading force in the government to become 4th biggest political force in the country, chose Mr Väyrynen as its candidate very reluctantly. He was considered to be in clear opposition to the party leadership. Surprisingly he has been able to lure back the agrarian conservatives and anti-EU–minded people, who abandoned the Centre party in hordes for the True Finns. He stands currently in 8,2% support.

Clear underperformers so far, at least what comes to polls, have been the True Finn party candidate, chairperson Timo Soini, and Social Democratic candidate Mr Paavo Lipponen. True Finn party, which made huge gains in parliamentary elections, has been on the rise ever since and currently stands in 19,9% rating and is the 2nd most popular political force in the country. Still Mr Soini scores only 7% in the last poll.

His campaign has been sluggish at best, and most commentators agree, that presidency, or even 2nd round, is not in fact even his goal. Finland will have municipal elections in October, and it is important for the True Finns to stay in spotlight and activate their local branches. Candidacy in the elections serves this purpose well.

Although the most experienced and qualified expert in foreign and security policy issues, which are the main domains where the President still holds powers in Finland, the Social Democratic candidate Mr Paavo Lipponen has been in trouble. His support has eroded since the beginning of the campaign and was even down to 4%. The campaign seems to have been activating the last days, and it remains to be seen whether this will be enough. Social Democratic Party Secretary General Mr Mikael Jungner made a public statement, that if it would be that Mr Lipponen would receive such meager amount of support, he would leave his place in the coming SDP congress in June.

Reasons behind the poor performance of the SDP candidate are various. Although Mr Lipponen’s time as a prime minister was in many ways very successful what comes to employment and competitiveness, many Social Democratic supporters and sympathizers consider that time a period when income differences started to grow fast and Finnish welfare state model was modified in a way which was unpleasant with many citizens with leftist values. Also as an uncompromising EU supporter and the architect of the Finnish euro enrollment, Mr Lipponen has drawn fire because of the current crisis.

Main topics, which have dominated the political discussion, have been the situation with EU and the euro, economical situation in Finland and also moral issues. The True Finn victory in parliamentary elections has activated the discussion around immigration and racism in Finland. Last days the SDP has tried to awaken discussion about economic policy and taxation. Mr Lipponen suggested a new level of income tax to the top earners, an initiative which was seconded by SDP chairwoman, current Minister for Finance Mrs Jutta Urpilainen.

It now seems obvious that the 2nd round will be needed. Mr Niinistö will clear this hurdle without problems, and the interesting part will be to see who will accompany him. The amount of undecided voters is still extremely large, which gives hope mostly to the Social Democrats. Last days of campaigning will make a big difference.

Finnish political landscape in change

Artikkeli ruotsalaisessa Dagens Arena -verkkolehdessä 7.11.2011.
After the general election held in April 2011, the Finnish political life has faced its greatest changes since the Second World War. The massive surge of nationalist, anti-EU, social conservative party Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) and their rise to become the 3rd largest political force in the country, only a few thousands votes short from the Social Democrats (SDP), can historically be matched only by the initial rise of the labour movement, and by the Communist SKDL landslide victory after the war, when the party was released from ban.

Since the Finnish political culture favors coalition governments and is not based on party blocks as in Sweden, the initial talks were expected to start among the biggest parties. These parties included the centre-right National Coalition Party Kokoomus, which for the first time in Finnish political history emerged as the biggest political force in the Parliament, the SDP, which was able to improve its relative position even though the actual result, 19,1 percent of the total vote, was the 2nd worst in the party history, and the True Finns.

This axis, which some foreign commentators to the left also described as quite “unholy”, was however breached when Kokoomus and SDP were able to agree on a common policy concerning the change in Finnish position towards new European financial mechanisms, and possible new bail-out packages. The content of this package was unsuitable for the True Finns, who oppose Finnish participation to the euro rescue operations in any case.

After the True Finns notified their party was to remain in opposition, actual coalition talks started with 6 parties; Kokoomus, SDP, Left Alliance, Greens, Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats. The coalition talks were exceptionally long and hard on Finnish scale and were even breached once, when SDP and Left Alliance left the negotiations for a week, only to return when Green party council rejected, against the will of their party leadership and parliamentary group, their involvement in the right-wing government.

The “Six-pack” coalition was described in the media as a marriage made out of reason (or with force), as the only option to avoid new elections.

The end result concerning the new government program was in general considered as a victory for the SDP. All Social Democratic positions concerning the development of taxation (no rise to VAT, progressive element and rise in the capital income tax etc.), social benefits and education were adopted as part of the program. The change concerning the government’s cooperation relations with the trade union movement was also significant. Furtermore, since it’s establishment, the policies from the new government, bear witness to a continued strong Social Democratic presence.

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So, what has this meant to the support of the SDP and rest of the left? Latest polls put Kokoomus in supreme lead with 24,4 percent; True Finns to the 2nd place with 21,4 percent; leaving SDP 3rd with 17,1 percent. A new low in the history of the SDP. The erosion of the Centre Party is continuing and they now poll only 13,1 percent.

What is especially significant is the demise of the leftist parties compared to the right. SDP and Left Alliance are now together as big as Kokoomus alone. This has never happened before. Greens, apart from many of their European counterparts, don’t count as a leftist party, but rather as a social liberal one.

The reasons behind the continuing trouble of the Finnish left, although it’s return to government, are various. Social Democracy in Finland is still suffering from an unclear identity. It has been widely considered that the SDP has lacked a strong vision for Finland after its last prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, who held the post 1995-2003. Under his leadership the SDP was by far the most dominant political force in the country and wielded considerable influence.

At this time Finnish Social Democracy could be described best as third-wayist, with focus on European integration and economic performance.

Mr. Lipponen’s time as the Party leader and prime minister is a debated topic within the party. It is unquestionable, that during governments he led, the Finnish economy was doing extremely well. Employment rose rapidly and Finland ranked to the top in various international comparisons, including education, competitiveness and even happiness. At the same time though, the social gaps between rich and poor were growing rapidly and the persisting unemployment remained relatively high.

This has been seen by some commentators as creating a lack of trust towards SDP as a modernizing force what comes to the social justice.

SDP is also suffering from a general atmosphere in society. The True Finn phenomena has less to do with immigration and Greek bail-outs, and more with the general demise of trust towards political institutions. Their strength derives from the juxtapositioning between the so-called “elite” and their “old parties” – and the “people”.

As the SDP is considered the main party behind the build-up of the Finnish welfare state – something the party also takes credit for – the general distrust towards politics, parties and institutions, hits hard at a party considered to be “establishment”.

What Finnish Social Democracy desperately needs are ways of communicating its renewing policies as a thorough political platform. At the moment the message is, although actual work done is in many ways impressive, rather messy.

This leaves room especially for Kokoomus to take credit from the accomplishments of the government. At the moment SDP fails to create a shared and compelling story where its policies are leading. SDP also needs more trust in itself. A party constantly on alert can’t focus its energy to renewal and ideological work.

The SDP brand must also be modernized. While living in an individualized era, thanks to the welfare state, the parties who want to catch people’s attention and interest have to offer compelling identities.

To vote for a party is a way to tell something about yourself too, its part of individual identity-building. In this regard, old collective identities of class or institutions aren’t so effective any more. Simplified; a green globe on my jacket makes me ethical, blue flower makes me dynamic and the red leaf makes, me, well, at the moment like trade unions and the welfare state.

But what does it tell about me as a person? If a movement lacks a clear positive response to this question, it is in trouble.