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Centre Party swaps key ministers as Kulmuni consolidates power

Centre chair Katri Kulmuni is to become finance minister while Mika Lintilä moves over to economic affairs.

Katri Kulmuni
Centre chair Katri Kulmuni said on Monday morning that she had proposed the change, which came as a surprise to some other party leaders. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

The reshuffle of Finland's government continues on Monday. The previous evening, the two main partners, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Centre Party, decided to form a slightly altered cabinet based on the same platform as its predecessor.

To the surprise of some within its own leadership, the Centre announced a key ministerial swap on Monday morning.

Katri Kulmuni, who took over as Centre leader in September, is to become finance minister while outgoing finance chief Mika Lintilä will in effect be demoted to his former post as minister of economic affairs. The finance minister, who oversees the budget, also traditionally serves as deputy prime minister.

Kulmuni said she considers it crucial that cooperation is smooth between the government's 'power duo' of prime minister and finance minister.

In both cases, the former older male ministers are being replaced by younger women. The five weightiest portfolios in the new cabinet will likely be held by women, four of them in their early 30s.

In a difficult situation, Kulmuni said, it is the party leader's responsibility to take on the heaviest portfolio. After her speech, she told Yle that the changes had been made faster than she expected, and unanimously.

"We didn't know that the whole Council of State would change. When a big change takes place, it is important that the government's axle, the power duo of prime minister and finance minister, works. That is the foundation of this 'red soil' government," she said, using the old moniker for partnerships between the left-leaning SDP and the agrarian-rooted Centre.

"We do the jobs offered by the people's movement"

Lintilä, meanwhile, professed to being pleased with returning to his former post of Minister of Economic Affairs, which he held from 2016 until last summer. The title is a relatively recent addition to Finnish cabinets, having only been coined in 2008. Kulmuni was the first woman to hold the post, and only had it for half a year.

Asked if he would have wanted to carry on as finance minister, Lintilä declined to answer directly.

"Here we always do the jobs offered by the people's movement. They are both excellent posts in which it is extremely interesting to work," he replied.

Yle has learned that the switch came as a surprise to others in the party's leadership and ministerial group. Some 'key individuals' were first informed of the change just before the morning press conference.

According to Kulmuni, the change "came at the proposal of the party chair".

The other Centre ministers from the outgoing Antti Rinne government are to remain in their positions: Antti Kaikkonen as Defence Minister, Jari Leppä as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and Hanna Kosonen as Minister of Science and Culture.

Kosonen took over that job when Annika Saarikko went on family leave in August, two months after taking office. She is expected to return to the post in August 2020.

Smaller parties likely to keep ministers

Of the junior government partners, at least the Swedish People's Party plans to keep its two ministers in the same posts: party chair Anna-Maja Henriksson as Justice Minister and Thomas Blomqvist as Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality.

The Greens and Left Alliance are to confirm later on Monday whether they will join the revamped government. Both have leadership meetings scheduled for 4pm.

Both are expected to carry on with their current ministers. The cabinet has officially been a caretaker government since last Tuesday when Rinne resigned as prime minister after Kulmuni's Centre expressed a nebulously-worded lack of confidence in him following a protracted labour dispute.

On Sunday evening the SDP decided to replace him as prime minister with current Minister of Transport and Communications Sanna Marin, after she narrowly defeated parliamentary group chair Antti Lindtman in a party council vote.

The party has nominated Rinne to become deputy speaker of parliament, replacing Tuula Haatainen. She is expected to return to government as employment minister, taking over from Timo Harakka, who in turn is to succeed Marin in the transport post.

Rinne says he plans to remain party leader until next summer. He predicted on Sunday that Parliament will vote on his replacement on Tuesday. That is expected to be a rubber-stamp approval, as the five parties hold a strong majority.

Approval on Tuesday would allow time for Marin to be appointed by the president and sworn in before Thursday, when she is to head to Brussels for a European Council summit. It effectively marks the end of Finland's six-month presidency of the body.

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