Finland and the European Union
- Teija TiilikainenTeija TiilikainenFinnish Institute of International Affairs
Finland joined the European Union together with Austria and Sweden at the beginning of 1995. At first glance, Finnish membership appeared as a rapid change of political orientation, given the inflexible policy of neutrality the country had maintained until the early 1990s. In spite of the brevity of national adaptation and consideration, the decision to follow Sweden and submit an application for EU membership was based on an overwhelming political consensus. All the major political elites, including party and interest organizations, key actors in the private sector, and the media were in favor of Finnish membership. In the referendum for EU membership in October 1994, membership was supported by 57% of the people.
A stable popular support characterized the Finnish EU policy for the first 15 years of its EU membership and distinguished Finland from its Nordic neighbours in the EU. The popular approach was anchored in a perception of EU membership representing a comprehensive change from the country’s difficult position in the Cold War era to full-fledged membership in the Western community. Finland thus joined the EU’s currency union as the only Nordic member state and adopted a constructive approach toward more integration in most policy fields. It was only in the context of the economic and financial crisis of 2008–2009 that Finnish public opinion became—at least temporarily—heavily polarized by the EU question. This resembled the situation in many other EU member states. During the two decades of Finland’s EU membership, the country has experienced a Europeanization of its political system and legislation. EU membership has contributed to a further parliamentarization of Finland’s semi-presidential political system with EU affairs being designated to the powers of the government and coordination of policies taking place at the prime minister’s office. Due mainly to EU membership, the Finnish Parliament has also become an influential actor in foreign and European policies.
Finland has smoothly adjusted to the EU’s policies and has become a persistent proponent of the EU’s unity in external relations. Since the first years of its EU membership, the country has been in favor of majority decisions and a stronger role played by the commission and the EP in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It has also gone through a major change in its legislation on crisis management and the tasks of defense forces to be able to better fulfill membership commitments to the EU’s security and defense policies.
After the polarization of EU opinion taking place in the framework of the general elections of 2011, and leading to the emergence of an anti-EU “Finns Party” as the third-largest party in Finland, a more consensual atmosphere has recently returned with increasing levels of public support to EU membership. The Finns Party first made its way to the governmental coalition together with the two largest center-right parties in 2015, which significantly softened its EU criticism and moved its focus to an anti-immigration agenda. Finally, in 2017 the Finns Party was split into two parts with the more moderate part practically failing to establish itself in parliamentary or European elections of the spring 2019.