HELSINKI — The head of Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party, which came first in April 2 elections, said Thursday he would start talks to form a center-right coalition government that would see power-sharing with a far-right anti-immigration party.
After weeks of sounding out all parties represented in Parliament, NCP leader Petteri Orpo said he had picked the far-right Finns, the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland for coalition talks.
“We have big challenges and we must make difficult decisions,” Orpo told a news conference, adding that the new Cabinet needs to make budget cuts and conduct financial and other reforms in the European Union and NATO member state.
“I have a strong belief that with these parties we can really achieve those reforms and that even in difficult times, even in surprising situations, there is a common spirit, a common glue to solve things,” Orpo said.
NCP, Finland’s main conservative party, claimed victory in the parliamentary elections with 20.8% of the vote, in a tight three-way race that saw the Finns take second place. Outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic Party came in third, dashing her hopes for reelection.
The nationalist Finns, which run largely on an anti-European Union and anti-immigration agenda, received 20.1% of the vote. Support both for the right-leaning Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland was just over 4%, so the two parties would clearly be junior members in the planned coalition.
Orpo’s NCP has the right to attempt Cabinet formation first as the election winner.
Orpo said talks with potential coalition partners are set to start next week and expected to finish in June with a coalition agreement and program for the new Finnish government for the next four years.
The election was largely fought over economic issues, with voters in the nation of 5.5 million people — which became NATO’s 31st member on April 4 — shifting their allegiances to parties on the political right as they seek solutions to rising state debt, inflation and other economic problems.
The debt will pose a challenge for the new government, particularly since NATO membership will require Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, to increase its defense spending.
At the end of March, Finland’s government debt stood at around 146 billion euros ($161 billion), or some 55% of GDP, compared to around 106 billion euros at the end of 2019 when Marin’s center-left government took office.