Finnish political parties, fresh off a long domestic election season, have cranked up the campaign machinery again ahead of the European Parliament elections on 26th May.
Although candidates rosters have all been announced, many parties are using the Europe Day celebrations as a launchpad to get their message out to the wider public.
Europe Day has been a fixture on the calendar since the mid-1980s, when the then-European Commission introduced it as a way to foster a feeling of greater pan-European identity. The actual date marks the 1950 signing of the Schumann Declaration, which is widely regarded as the starting point for the modern European Union.
Voting challenges for Finns
One area where Finland has a particular issue is a relatively low level of voter turnout, compared with the average across the 28-nation block.
When Finns first voted for MEPs back in 1996 there was a 57.6% turnout, but it dropped down to 30.14% just a few years later before holding steady around 39% ever since.
However the biggest problem is trying to figure out why young Finns don’t vote. At the last European Parliament elections just 10% of people aged 18 to 24 bothered to cast their ballots. It’s one of the lowest number in Europe – beaten only by Slovakia on 6%.
“I think that [young people] feel that the EU is really distant and they don’t know how the EU affects their everyday life, and that’s something we need to fix now” says National Coalition Party candidate Aura Salla, a familiar face on the Brussels scene where she works as a foreign policy adviser at the European Commission, as well as being active in party politics.
Compared to Belgium where 90% of young people voted; 38% in Denmark; 66% in Sweden, it’s clear that Finland has a lot of work to do to encourage young people to be engaged with EU-level politics.
While young people in Finland have been at the forefront of climate change activism, that energy has not yet found its way to EU politics. Aura Salla says a key to involving more young people is to show them exactly how the issues being discussed in Brussels and Strasbourg can impact the everyday lives of Finnish young voters.
“I think they also want to be part of the team, part of something concrete and if you see the people around me, my team, we have almost 600 members in my team nowadays, they are from all over Finland and finally saying we want to be part of this group because you talk about real things, and things that matter to us” she explains.
Has voter fatigue set in for Finland?
Another concern around the upcoming European Parliament elections is whether Finns will go out and vote at all, given that there’s been a months-long general election campaign where voters were bombarded with seemingly endless campaign events, panel discussions and politician soundbites.
“I think it will affect somehow because it’s the only question I’ve received during the last weeks, why do we have elections so close to each other” says Henrik Wickström, who is doing double campaign duty as a Swedish People’s Party candidate first in April’s general election and now in May’s European Parliament election.
“I know there’s been so much politics during the last months in the news so it might be that it has a negative effect in the voting turnout, but I hope that people would go and vote” says Wickström, who adds that he’s been hearing a lot of positive comments from voters in his home town of Ingå about their intentions to actually go to the polls.
The Swedish People’s Party had a good general election result, with 10 seats in parliament and now being included in the new coalition government after sitting out the last four years.
Could this have an impact also on their voter turn-out, if supporters perceive them as a party ‘on the up’?
Possibly, says Wickström.
“I’ve heard most people think they will go from our supporters, that they will go and vote so I am quite hopeful still but I am a bit worried about what the turnout will be in the end” he says.