Merkel’s Losses Are Finland’s Gain

A weaker Merkel who needs to solidify her position at home could be just what Finland was hoping for.

Angela Merkel with supporters during the German election campaign / Credit: @cdu Instagram

The dust has barely settled on vote counting from yesterday’s general election in Germany, and diplomats, politicians and analysts in Helsinki and Berlin are trying to figure out what it means for the two countries.

Some experts believe that a weakened Merkel, especially allied with the Liberals, could be just what Finland was hoping for.

Results Recap

Angela Merkel won an historic fourth term in office, but with a reduced number of seats in parliament – her party’s worst showing in 70 years. The right wing populist AfD party got into parliament with a huge boost, to become Germany’s third biggest parliamentary party.

Finnish Response

Prime Minister Sipilä says the rise of the anti-immigrant AfD is a big change for German politics, but his government considers it a victory nevertheless for Merkel’s Christian Democrat block.

“If Finland is considering the situation, Merkel’s victory is clear” says Juha Sipilä (Centre).

“The Liberal Party also rose. It has a very similar European orientation as Finland when it comes to the development of the European Economic and Monetary Union”.

Best Outcome for Finland?

“From a purely Finnish point of view, this is possibly the best outcome” says Tuomas Malinen, CEO of GNS Economics, a Helsinki economic forecasting and analysis firm.

“The ruling coalition lost so much […] which basically means that the federal euro union was buried at the same time” he says.

“I don’t think anywhere else rather than Finland, is the objection to the federal structure higher. We are a beacon for that. Germany was drifting towards a [French President Emmanuel] Macron viewpoint of increasing federalism in Europe, and Finland is completely objecting to that. This is something the Finns don’t want”.

Malinen is not alone in that assertion. His view is shared by Marco Siddi, a Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs FIIA.

“It does have an impact on the prospect of EU reform in general, and we have to see what sort of coalition comes out of the negotiations” says Siddi.

“What could this mean for Finland? In the last months in debates here in Helsinki I noticed that the Finnish positions were becoming more nuanced in fiscal and economic matters. Throught the euro crisis the Finns sided with the Germans and the Liberals on euro positions, to the extent it took almost a more extreme view” he explains.

“We have to see whether this election pushes Germany to a less compromising position with France or it impacts the Finnish position, so that Finland will go back to just supporting the German, or Liberal position. But i think it will be somewhere in between.”

Diplomatic Viewpoint

Speaking on the phone from the Finnish Embassy in Berlin, Ambassdor Ritva Koukku-Ronde takes a more cautious approach.

“I think my first reaction in general, this was a very strong protest against the existing government, and against the existing coalition, and also a sort of wake-up call for Germany” says the diplomat.

“The losses were bigger for the government parties than expected, and maybe AfD got a little bit more than expected, but how does it reflect to Europe or to Finland as part of the European Union it is yet to be seen. One has to remember that the German parliament will still be very pro-European” she says.

Domestic Politics

With a strong showing by the populist AfD, Chancellor Merkel could face pressure to concentrate more on domestic politics, the economy, immigration, and job creation rather than tread the international stage, where she has taken a leading role in particular with Russia.

Ambassador Koukku-Ronde thinks that Merkel can tackle both spheres evenly.

“Chancellor Merkel is so experienced of course during the 12 years in government, she doesn’t have to learn some new tricks. For sure there will be concentration on internal issues, but at the same time my guess, she is still having a strong role in these international issues”.

Echoing Prime Minister Sipilä’s comments, the Ambassador also stresses the commonality between Finland and Germany in a lot of key areas.

“Finland and Germany share these fundamental beliefs in the merits of European integration and the European Union. And we share the view of the European Union as a strong player in foreign and security policy, but also in issues concerning internal markets, that there is overall this positive attitude towards the EU and European integration” she says.