Key Challenges

High level of trust in institutions; coalition cabinets represent broad belief spectrum
Finland has been a stable democracy since independence. Much like in the other Nordic countries, surveys indicate that Finns have relatively high levels of trust in politicians and political institutions. Though public support for the current Sipilä government is very low, and voter turnout in parliamentary elections is significantly lower than in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. To a certain extent, this is explained by the fact that governments in Finland have often been oversized (i.e., governments have typically commanded very large parliamentary majorities). In addition, government coalition parties represent a wide range of ideologies spanning the left-right spectrum. To take an extreme but recent example, Jyrki Katainen’s cabinet (installed in 2011) had the support of 63% of members of parliament and encompassed six parties, including the far-left Left Alliance, the Green Party and the conservative National Coalition Party. It is evident that the broad and unstable nature of such coalition governments undermines government accountability and transparency, and limits the public’s ability to fully understand and engage with the processes of policymaking.
Current coalition suffers from internal divisions
On the other hand, the governance style of the current Sipilä government, which is a much smaller and ideologically more cohesive coalition government, has not been very transparent. In addition, it has suffered from internal divisions, the most serious of which caused a split within the populist Finns Party in 2017. Measures have been introduced to revitalize and enhance the level participation in Finland, the most important being the so-called citizens’ initiative, which obliges parliament to debate any petition that receives at least 50,000 signatures. This initiative has been very popular. At the time of writing, 24 initiatives have been submitted to parliament. Notwithstanding, while this mechanism marks a step in a more participatory direction, citizens’ initiatives are non-binding and parliament retains the right to reject any initiative.
Russian actions increase foreign-policy pressure
Within the field of national security, Finland faces a number of challenges. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its intensified activities in the Baltic Sea region have increased pressure on the government to form alliances with international partners. The question of whether Finland should apply for membership in NATO has been debated ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, but leading politicians, notably President Niinistö, as well as public opinion remain skeptical toward NATO membership. Current constitutional arrangements divide responsibility for foreign affairs (excluding those related to EU affairs) between the president and government. However, as a consequence of President Niinistö’s high popularity and Prime Minister Sipilä’s apparent disinterest in foreign policy issues, the role of the president has been accentuated within the area of foreign policy.
Migrants ease low
birth rate concerns
Fertility rates have been dropping for almost a decade and reached an all-time low in 2017. This negative trend could be compensated by an inflow of migrant workers. Although public attitudes toward asylum-seekers and refugees remain negative, the attitude toward work-related immigration is generally positive. At the same time, support for the populist Finns Party has decreased, which could reflect a more favorable popular attitude toward immigration.
Government executive capacity strong
The executive capacity of the government is strong. The programmatic framework works reasonably well, and forms the basis for strategic planning and implementation. Interministerial coordination works well and is highly efficient. Interest organizations, various civil society groups and increasingly the general public are consulted when legislation is drafted. The Sipilä government has undertaken a major reform to restructure local government, and the health and social care systems. This reform has been highly controversial, but is expected to come into force in January 2021. The next big challenge will be a comprehensive reform of the social security system, which is likely to be at least as complex and controversial as the health and social care reform.

Party Polarization

Low level of party polarization
The level of party polarization is very low in Finland. In general, Finnish governments are coalition governments, often made up of parties from both the left and right. In 2011, Jyrki Katainen formed a cabinet consisting of six parties, including the far-left Left Alliance, the Green Party and Katainen’s conservative National Coalition Party. The current Sipilä government, though, is a center-right government. (Score: 9)
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