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Potential conflicts loom as government formation talks get underway

Centre Party demands may make it difficult for smaller parties to agree on a platform for Finland's next cabinet.

Anna-Maja Henriksson (rkp), Pekka Haavisto (vihr.), Li Andersson (vas.) ja Antti Rinne (sd.) hallitusneuvotteluissa torstaina 9. toukokuuta.
Party chairs Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP), Pekka Haavisto (Greens), Li Andersson (Left) and Antti Rinne (SDP) at the House of Estates on 9 May. Centre leader Juha Sipilä was away at an EU meeting. Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle

Talks aimed at forming a new Finnish government got underway in earnest on Thursday.

Social Democratic Party leader Antti Rinne, who is steering efforts to form a new cabinet, is chairing negotiations at Helsinki's nineteenth-century House of Estates.

Story continues after photo.

Antti Rinne
Antti Rinne Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle

On Wednesday he chose outgoing PM Juha Sipilä's Centre Party as the SDP's main partner in efforts to form a coalition – despite the Centre's disastrous result in last month's election.

The SDP and Centre are the largest and fourth largest groups in the new Parliament, with 40 and 31 seats respectively.

If the current talks succeed, they will be in a coalition with the fifth-place Greens (20 MPs), the Left Alliance (16 seats) and the Swedish People's Party (10 seats including the Åland representative). That would give the government a comfortable majority of 117 seats in the 200-seat chamber.

Two right-of-centre parties, Finns Party (39 seats and second-largest party) National Coalition Party (38 seats and third-largest) would be in opposition, along with the Christian Democrats and Movement Now.

Only four party chairs were taking part in Thursday's talks though. Acting PM Sipilä stopped by in the morning but then headed to Sibiu, Romania, where he represented Finland at an informal meeting of 27 EU national leaders – without Britain – on Europe Day.

The ghost of sote reform

Sipilä has led a caretaker government since announcing the three-party cabinet's resignation in March over the failure of the reform of social and healthcare and regional administration known as sote. He is to step down from his post as Centre chair when a new leader is elected in September.

One likely contender for that post, parliamentary group leader Antti Kaikkonen, was among those replacing him at Thursday's Helsinki talks. So far all Centre MPs are taking part.

Story continues after photo.

Antti Kaikkonen
Antti Kaikkonen Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle

The party decided to join the talks on Wednesday morning after a straw poll of party leaders around the country.

"We haven't had much time to prepare for this, because just 24 hours ago we didn't know that we'd be here," Kaikkonen told Yle.

Conflicts loom over Centre demands

Kaikkonen stressed that the party still has 10 'threshold issues' that it aims to have included in the next government's programme as a condition for moving forward.

They include demands that may be difficult for other potential partners to swallow, such as pushing ahead with a provincial administration overhaul that was central to the failed sote reform, and an increase in logging. That would likely reduce the country's carbon sinks, undermining the ambitious climate goals of the Greens and Left Alliance.

Story continues after photo.

Hallitustunnustelija, SDP:n puheenjohtaja Antti Rinne (keskellä) kertoi hallitusneuvotteluiden ensimmäisestä päivästä Säätytalossa keskiviikkona.
Party chairs Haavisto, Henriksson, Rinne, Andersson and Sipilä spoke to reporters before the latter left for an EU meeting. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

The Centre and the Greens also have sharply differing proposals for reform of parental benefits, while the Left disagrees with the Centre's views on corporate taxes and subsidies. Meanwhile the SDP wants to change or rescind the so-called activation model employment scheme, key legislation pushed through by the past Centre-led government.

"Dark clouds on the horizon"

As talks began on Wednesday afternoon, some 200 party officials heard from an array of experts on eight central themes such as the economy, climate and social and health care.

On the economy, Rinne cited the latest Finance Ministry forecast.

"The starting point is that there are dark clouds on the horizon, both globally and in the European economy, with Brexit, the Italian economy and even Germany's situation. These must of course be taken into consideration in economic policy," the SDP chair said.

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