Where Are They Now? Finland’s Ex-Presidents And Prime Ministers

Wit the presidential election coming up at the end of the month, we take a look back at the careers of Finland's former Presidents and Prime Ministers.

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Presidential Palace, Helsinki / Credit: Olaf Meister

Finland goes to the polls at the end of January to vote for the country’s next President.

In some European countries like Germany or Italy, the role of the President is mostly ceremonial, but in Finland the President takes the lead on some foreign policy issues, and is Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish defence forces. The President is also considered something of a moral compass for the nation.

The current centre-right President Sauli Niinistö (NCP) has been in office since 2012 and now coming to the end of his first six year term. Finland’s constitution allows the president to serve a maximum of two terms in office.

During the last six years, Niinistö has seen a number of Prime Ministers come and go. So what ever happened to Finland’s current living ex-Presidents and Prime Ministers?

Tarja Halonen

Former President Tarja Halonen (SDP) was president for 12 years from 2000 to 2012, and was Finland’s first female head of state. A lawyer, trade unionist and LGBT activist in her early career. Halonen became a member of parliament in 1979 and over the course of the next 21 years served as Minister of Justice and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Since leaving office, Halonen has continued to be active in the causes which interest her the most, including advocacy work for women and childrens’ rights and the environment; as well as being involved with work for the United Nations and European Council.

Martti Ahtisaari

Former President Martti Ahtisaari (SDP) was a one term president who served from 1994 – 2000. He had a decades-long career as a diplomat for the Finnish Foreign Ministry and the United Nations, and focused in particular on independence negotiations in Namibia. After his term as president, he returned to the world of international diplomacy with his own Crisis Management Institute, and worked on peace accords in Indonesia and the Balkans. In 2008 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Africa and Asia, as well as his contributions to resolve conflicts in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.

With the death of former President Mauno Koivisto in 2017, there are only two former Finnish Presidents still left alive. However there’s a handful of Prime Ministers who served varying lengths of time in office then went on to do other things.

Here’s a look at what became of Finland’s ex-Prime Ministers:

Alex Stubb (NCP)

Stubb was a short-lived Prime Minister, and served for just over a year from May 2015 to June 2016. He returned to the back benches for a short time after that, but was soon voted out of his role as party chairman. Stubb always had an eye for a juicy international job and in 2017 he landed a role as Vice President of the European Investment Bank, which comes with a salary reportedly north of €20,000 per month.

Jyrki Katainen (NCP)

Katainen was Finland’s 42nd Prime Minister, from June 2011 to June 2014 when he unexpectedly quit the job to take up a new position as Finland’s European Commissioner in Brussels. In November 2014 he was shuffled to a new job as Commissioner for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness where he still works.

Mari Kiviniemi (Centre)

Kiviniemi was another short-lived Finnish Prime Minister, in office for just a year from June 2010 to June 2011. Finland’s second female PM, Mari Kiviniemi lead the party while it suffered some of its biggest ever losses in the 2011 general election. She stayed as party for a while after that but quit when opinion polls showed there was no strong rebound in support for the Centre Party. Since leaving office, Kiviniemi took up a job as Deputy Secretary General at the OECD.

Matti Vanhanen (Centre)

Matti Vanhanen was previously Prime Minister of Finland for seven years from 2003 to 2010. He is a candidate in this year’s presidential election, and was a candidate before in 2006 when he came third. After leaving office he started work for the Family Business Network in Finland but by 2015 he was back in the politics game, elected as a member of parliament again, and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Anneli Jäätteenmäki (Centre)

As Finland’s first ever female Prime Minister, Jäätteenmäki might have been set for a long period in office: half her cabinet were women and Finland became the first country to have a female President and Prime Minister at the same time when she took her party to election victory. But her time as PM turned out to be very short, lasting just over two months from April to June 2003. Jäätteenmäki had to resign after becoming embroiled in scandal over leaked documents and accusations that she lied to parliament. She was acquitted in court of all charges relating to leaked Foreign Ministry documents. In 2004 she became a Member of the European Parliament, and though she took time out in 2006 to fight breast cancer, she recovered fully and has continued to serve as an MEP since then.

Paavo Lipponen (SDP)

Lipponen was a Social Democrat party activist for a long time before becoming an MP in 1983. By 1993 he was party chairman, and became Prime Minister after winning the general election in 1995 and held the job until 2003. He finally retired from parliament in 2007 and took up a controversial role as a consultant for Nord Stream pipeline, a Russian project. In 2012 he was the Social Democrat’s presidential nominee but was knocked out in the first round with less than 7% of the votes.

Esko Aho (Centre)

Aho was in office from 1991 to 1995, and at age 36 was the youngest Prime Minister in Finnish history, and also at the time the youngest head of government in Europe. After leaving office, he ran for President in 2000 but lost to Tarja Halonen. He lectured for a year at Harvard University in the USA, and in 2003 after leaving politics for good, took a job as President of SITRA, the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development. In 2008 he took a job at Nokia.