Finland has always been a country that is referred to as an example of a healthy, stable, and functioning democracy. But in the last decade, there is a rise in the support for the far-right parties in the parliament, which causes concerns for some.
The True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) has risen to be the second most powerful political party in Finland in the last decade. In 1999 elections the party gained less than 1% vote; and got similar percentages in 2003 (1,6%) and 2007 (4%) elections. But the 2011 elections was an unprecedented success for the party. It suddenly jumped up from 4% to more than 19%. When a comparison is made between the 2007 and 2011 elections, The True Finns is the only party that increased its voter base. The remaining 7 parties/coalitions in the parliament have lost voters and parliamentary seats to the True Finns. One possible explanation of this success was the start of the Syrian Civil War on March 15th, 2011 while the elections were on April 17th, 2011. Suddenly the early wave of refugees started to overflow nearby countries and people from all around Europe started to fear that the refugee crisis was going to spillover. True Finns’ electoral promise was to keep refugees out of Finland. Therefore imprisoned by their fear, people may have once again chosen security over freedom. But another possible explanation is the stock market crash of 2011 and the economic recession that the global market went through.
Since its dramatic victory in 2011, The True Finns have retained their electoral base quite successfully. They have lost only 1.5% of their votes in total in the last two elections and still managed to get 17.5% vote on 2019 elections. This retention can’t be fully explained by the Syrian Crisis. Ultimately, the country hosts no more than 7000 Syrian refugees. To compare: Lebanon, which has a similar native population with Finland (both around 6 million), hosts more than 2.2 million refugees. 7000 refugees in a country of 6 million cannot, in any possible way, be responsible for the worsening economy or the increasing crime rate. But they can very easily be blamed for it, especially by right-wing politicians.
Perhaps, the retention of support for right-wing politicians can be explained by the economy. Finland’s GDP per capita has been on a decreasing trend since 2008, having it’s the lowest point in 2015. Worsening economy is usually a reason in-itself for changing electoral preferences. An interesting study revealed that ‘economic voting’ was becoming increasingly popular in Finland, especially after the 2008 & 2011 world economic crises which Finland never seemed to recover (Söderlund & Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2014). But when combined with scapegoating against immigrants, an economic recession can very easily lead to increasing support for the right-wing. There have been anti-immigrant protests in Helsinki in 2015, against the opening of new refugee centers, and protestors voiced their concerns that this will further increase taxation and worsen the economy.
Another possible explanation comes from an exhaustive study done on crime in Finland. The study revealed that the crime convictions around Finland have skyrocketed between the years 2005 and 2014 (Vuorela, 2018). It has not only reached it’s the all-time highest number in the country’s history; but also displayed the steepest increase ever seen. The only remark we can make about this jump in the crime is that it is correlated with the increasing number of refugees in the related years. There may be absolutely no causality between the two events; crime is very much causally related to another factor, which is the economy. Decreasing GDP per capita (Ragnarsdottir, 2014); rising unemployment (Andresen, 2012); and economic recession (Yearwood & Koinis, 2011), have all been shown to be strongly and causally linked with increasing crime rates even in the Northern European social welfare state context (Ragnarsdottir, 2014). But from a voter’s perspective, that is fueled with propaganda and scapegoating, the blame can be easily put on the refugees. As long as the citizens blame outsiders for the unfortunate events happening in the country, they will demand policy changes in migration and in foreign policy.
Currently, there aren’t enough policy changes that took place, to consider Finland as an anti-immigrant country. It is still one of the most refugee-friendly countries in the EU. Not only for Syrians but for every person that is escaping war and other inhumane conditions. There are huge diasporas of Afghans, Somalis, and Iraqis; that seek refuge in Finland. Finland even still has empty quota for refugees, so in case they apply for it, they are unlikely to be rejected. Although they are unlikely to become Finland citizens right away, they will live and work at humane conditions. They are unlikely to be left homeless or hungry. Yet it is hard to say whether the immigrant-friendly attitude of Finland is going to continue or not.
It is unclear whether or not the far-right trend will continue in Finland. In 2017, the True Finns election Jussi Halla-aho as the chairman of their party. He did gained a significant amount of support in the 2019 elections, but it looks like the support for the party has reached a plateau level in the last 8 years. In the future; the ‘economic voting’ trend is not going away anytime soon, so left-wing politicians will still be likely to be blamed for the economic hardships people go through; even if it’s a global crisis and has nothing to do with the social welfare state. The Syrian Crisis isn’t going to end soon, nor will the other refugee crises around the world; so migration will still be an issue for the European states. So when we put into perspective; support for the far-right may stay in its current plateau levels or it may even rise. Because the right-wing parties are known for their Euroskeptic discourses (Herkman, 2017). Euroskepticism is also on a significant rise across Europe, with the UK almost certainly leaving the EU. If the UK benefits from Brexit, the Euroskeptic discourses may gain a sharper rise, and the populist leaders, including Jussi Halla-aho, may reach a larger voter base.
Andresen, M. A. (2012). Unemployment and crime: A neighborhood level panel data approach. Social science research, 41(6), 1615-1628.
Herkman, J. (2017). The Finns party: Euroscepticism, euro crisis, populism and the media. Media and communication, 5(2), 1-10.
Ragnarsdottir, A. G. (2014). Investigating the Long-Run and Causal Relationship between GDP and Crime in Sweden
Söderlund, P., & Kestilä-Kekkonen, E. (2014). Economic voting in Finland before and after an economic crisis. Acta Politica, 49(4), 395-412
Vuorela, M. (2018). The historical criminal statistics of Finland 1842–2015–a systematic comparison to Sweden. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 42(2-3), 95-117.
Yearwood, D. L., & Koinis, G. (2011). Revisiting property crime and economic conditions: An exploratory study to identify predictive indicators beyond unemployment rates. The Social Science Journal, 48(1), 145-158.