(December 12, 2019 / JNS) Finnish President Sauli Niinistö accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Antti Rinne on Dec. 3, just six months into his term, after key political ally and coalition partner Keskusta (The Center Party) withdrew its support. Following the resignation and the consequent reshuffling of ministerial positions, Sanna Marin, a 34-year old member of Rinne’s Social Democrat Party, was chosen as the country’s new prime minister.
Marin represents the left flank of the SDP and is ideologically more aligned with the country’s Left Alliance Party than with the many centrist social democrats in her own party. Marin wants to significantly reduce air traffic, introduce heavy regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, opposes nuclear energy and is a vocal proponent of trans rights. In other words, she is the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—or “AOC—of Finland.
As for foreign policy, Finland is comfortable taking no position on hard issues, while being opinionated about the easy ones. Finland is vocal in international forums about the importance of fighting climate change, for example, but silent when it comes to Russia or China, or any issue that carries the potential to earn it powerful enemies.
The country’s foreign-policy responsibility is divided between the government, led by the premier and foreign minister, and the sitting president. The incumbent president, Sauli Niinistö, is a middle-of-the-road type—a pragmatist with a cautious approach to hot-button issues.
She is the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—or “AOC”—of Finland.
Interestingly, Niinistö has a history of being friendly towards Israel. Perhaps indicative of this was Niinistö’s refusal to follow Sweden in its decision to recognize Palestine. In many ways this was an anomaly in Finnish-Swedish relations, as Finland tends to act in tandem with its Western neighbor.
Marin, the new prime minister, on the other hand, has made multiple comments regarding her affinity for the Palestinian cause. In 2014, Marin accused the Finnish Christian Democratic Party of seeing the Israel-Palestine conflict through “a biblical lens.” Also in 2014, Marin wrote a blog post in which she advocated for the recognition of Palestine.
“It’s time to recognize that the policies of the past have not worked. The conflict has gotten worse and region has no stability … speeches about the two-state model no longer suffice, we also need action. The recognition of State of Palestine would be a step in the right direction,” she wrote.
Marin’s enthusiastic rhetoric coupled with Finnish Foreign Minister Paavo Haavisto’s opposition to U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem and friendly ties with the Palestinian leadership could make for a potent and potentially policy-altering mix. Haavisto’s own Green Party has made it clear it is looking into recognizing Palestine and conditioning arms deals between Israel and Finland on the revival of the peace process.
Finland now has a solidly pro-Palestine sitting government and a president who is friendly towards Israel. Considering that president Niinistö has changed and softened many of his positions, it would not be a surprise if Finland suddenly decides to adopt a slew of anti-Israel policies—one of which would likely be to recognize Palestine.
Mikael Virtanen is a Helsinki-based entrepreneur with a focus on chemical manufacturing, commodities trading and crisis management. He leverages his broad commercial and business experience to write about global economic and political affairs.
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