New NATO Member Finland Swears In Government Regarded as Country’s Most Right-Wing in Decades

June 20, 2023by Jari Tanner, The Associated Press
New NATO Member Finland Swears In Government Regarded as Country’s Most Right-Wing in Decades
The new Government of Finland led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo poses for a family picture in Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. First row, from left, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sari Essayah, Minister of Finance Riikka Purra, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo and Minister of Education Anna-Maja Henriksson. Second row, from left, Minister of Labour (split into two-year posts) Arto Satonen, Minister for Local and Regional Government Anna-Kaisa Ikonen, Minister for Culture and Science (split into two-year posts) Sari Multala, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Kai Mykk'nen, Minister of Defence Antti H'kk'nen, Minister for Social Security Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, Minister of Justice Leena Meri and Minister for Europe and Corporate Governance Anders Adlercreutz. Third row, from left, Minister of Social Affairs and Health Kaisa Juuso, Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen, Minister of Economic Affairs (divided into two-year posts) Vilhelm Junnila, Minister for Sport, Physical Activity and Youth (split between the SPP and CD for two-year posts) SPP's Sandra Bergqvist, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Ville Tavio, Minister for Transport and Communications Lulu Ranne and Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP)

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland, which recently became NATO’s 31st member, swore in a new coalition government Tuesday that is considered the most right-wing one in the Nordic country’s modern history.

President Sauli Niinistö appointed the 19-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, the leader of the conservative National Coalition Party, after Finnish lawmakers approved the lineup of ministers.

The National Coalition Party won the most seats in an April 2 parliamentary election. Following seven weeks of coalition talks, the party announced a deal to form a government with three other parties, including the far-right, euroskeptic Finns Party.

The two junior partners in the coalition are the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland. Due to the dominance of the two senior partner parties, Finnish media described Orpo’s government as “national conservative” in nature.

The four parties hold a majority of 108 seats in the 200-member Parliament. Political analysts said the new Cabinet was Finland’s most right-wing government since World War II.

Finland’s economy was the central issue in April’s election. While campaigning, conservative candidates accused the center-left Cabinet of former Prime Minister Sanna Marin of excessive spending, contributing to rising state debt and other economic problems.

Despite Marin’s personal popularity and high international profile, voters shifted their allegiances away from her Social Democratic Party and to parties on the political right. The Social Democrats finished third in the election, after the National Coalition Party and the Finns Party.

Orpo, a 53-year-old veteran politician, is a former finance and interior minister and has headed the NCP, Finland’s main conservative party, since 2016.

The party’s other key Cabinet posts include Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen and Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen, who is the NCP’s vice chair.

Häkkänen’s post is particularly significant since Finland joined NATO in April. The country of 5.5 million, which shares a long border with Russia, is in the process of integrating its military systems and infrastructure into the alliance.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland to abandon decades of military non-alignment and to seek NATO membership together with Sweden in May 2022. Under Marin’s leadership, Finland was one of Ukraine’s most vocal and active European supporters in terms of military and civilian aid.

Häkkänen offered assurances that the new government would not change Finland’s position toward Ukraine.

“Finland’s support to Ukraine will continue to be very strong. There will be no changes to this policy,” he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the new Cabinet’s first news conference.

The populist Finns Party, which follows a largely nationalist and anti-immigration agenda, received several important Cabinet posts. Party leader Riikka Purra was made finance minister in the new government, and other party members were named to lead Finland’s interior and justice ministries.

While Finland’s strategy on Ukraine may stay the same, Orpo’s Cabinet is expected to carry out major social policy and labor reforms, as well as budget cuts, over the next four years.

It seeks to substantially decrease Finland’s government debt and is taking a hard stance on immigration, including tightening the requirements for residence permits and citizenship.

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