Influx of migrants from Russia to Finland: ‘This will put pressure on Europe’

Since the beginning of November, more than 400 asylum seekers have arrived at Finnish border crossings from Russia, compared to the usual ten or so a month. Helsinki accuses Moscow of orchestrating this influx of migrants and has closed almost all its border crossings. As a result, more and more migrants are heading for northern Russia, despite the cold, where a crossing point is expected to remain open for the next few days.

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Between November 1 and 17, 415 people – hailing from Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Somalia – arrived at border crossings in southeastern Finland to request asylum. They came from Russia without Schengen visas or residence permits. This figure is much higher than usual, according to the Finnish border guards who noticed an increase in asylum seekers arriving since August.

Number of asylum seekers arriving at border crossings in southeastern Finland in 2023. Finnish Border Guard

On social media, videos show people, often on bicycles, heading for the border posts with Finland.

Video posted on Twitter on November 19, 2023 and filmed in Russia, around 40 km from the Vartius border crossing.

Finland has accused Russia of masterminding the surge of migrants, a sentiment shared by the European Commission. They say the move is meant to destabilise the country, as retaliation for Finland joining NATO in April and aligning with the United States on defence issues. The Finnish Prime Minister emphasised that “Russia is instrumentalising migrants” in what amounts to a “hybrid attack”.

Finnish border guards agree. “Previously the Russians didn’t let people cross their border crossing point to Finland without required travel documents to Finland, but now they have.The phenomenon at the eastern border involves elements of organised illegal immigration facilitated by international crime including active marketing in social media,” Commander Pentti Alapelto of the Finnish Border Guard told FRANCE 24. 

Russia has rejected these accusations.

‘We give [border guards] $500 per person to let them continue their way to Finland from the Russian-Finnish crossing’

On November 22, we spoke on WhatsApp with Ahmed (not his real name), whose number appears on videos online filmed near the border. He claims to be in Turkey, where he is organising safe passage for migrants between Russia and the Finnish border.

I help people by sending them by car to the border in agreement with the Russian police. After that, I give the Russian border police $500 [€457] per person to cross, and the police give them bicycles.

No, there was no agreement with the border police [before November]. One of my men working on the Russian-Finnish border told me. I expect this is to put pressure on Europe with immigrants. 

I charge $1,200 [€1,097] per person: $500 for the border guard, $200 per person for the driver – because I am the owner of the car – and $500 for myself.

I sent about 200 people to the border with Russia in just 10 days [since November 12]. They are mainly Syrians, Iraqis, Tunisians, Moroccans, Turks, Yemenis and Lebanese. Of the people I delivered, some of them were in Russia, the others were in Belarus, and some of them came from Georgia or Turkey.

On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400.
On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400. © Telegram

We have not been able to independently verify this smuggler’s claims. However, the “agreement” he describes with the Russians is consistent with the accusations made by the Finns. In addition, in a conversation on a Telegram channel, a man claimed to be in contact with someone who had managed to cross the border after paying $100 to a Russian border guard. 

In addition, videos filmed near the border and posted on social networks show people on bicycles. The Reuters news agency has also published photos of rows of bikes at various border posts (for example at Salla on November 23). 

Crossing the border on foot is prohibited, so many have chosen to take bikes to bypass this restriction. Last week, however, Finland barred entry by bicycle.

The video on the left, posted on Twitter on November 17, 2023, was taken in Russia, just 3 km from the Nuijamaa border crossing. It also shows people on bicycles.

Almost all border crossings closed

To counter the influx of undocumented migrants, Finland closed four border crossings on the night of November 17, and three more on the night of November 23. Only one crossing point in the north remains open for asylum seekers.

Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17.
Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17. © Observers

On Friday November 24, “Ahmed” told us that he would continue to send people to the Finnish border as long as there was an open crossing point. 

On November 22, our team spoke to a Syrian whose two relatives recently tried to reach the Finnish border: “One of my friends was able to enter Finland five days ago. He paid $350 for a 12-hour journey from Moscow to a crossing point, then had to pay $300 [€274] for the bike.” His brother, on the other hand, was unable to cross the border.

We also spoke to two men who have not been able to enter Finland either, due to the phased closure of border crossings. One of them, who did not want to give his nationality, said that he had paid $700 (€640) to travel from Saint Petersburg to the border a few days ago, to no avail. 

Another, a Syrian, says he paid $100 to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg with four people from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. Once there, he paid a further $300 to travel north by taxi. At the time of writing, he had still not managed to cross the border. He told us that it was -25°C where he was.

‘There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death’

The Civic Assistance Committee, a Russian NGO that helps migrants and refugees, told us about Finland’s decision to close its border crossings.

This decision will impact a wide variety of people. First of all, it will severe connections between families that live in both countries. Secondly, it will trap refugees from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. that have close to zero chances of obtaining asylum in Russia inside the country. Finland doing this bypasses the problem of dealing with asylum seekers and processing their application. If you have zero asylum seekers because they can’t enter your country, then you don’t have to provide asylum to anyone.

People are living in tents near the northern crossing points. There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death as this November is very cold and we’ve seen such incidents during the situation on the Belarus-EU border. These asylum seekers need to be treated with respect and put out of the danger of freezing to death.

We know that dozens of refugees were detained by the police, tried and sentenced to deportation because they are now illegally in Russia with expired visas and no asylum.

One of the Syrians we spoke to also expressed this fear: “At the moment, I can’t tell you which village I’m in, because if the Russians find out there are migrants here, they’ll come and get us and send us back to Syria.”

Read moreMigrants turned away at Belarus-Poland border: ‘We see families and people with disabilities’

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Finland’s presidential election campaign heats up the winter months

Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike.


November, in Finnish, translates as ‘dead month’, and is nobody’s favourite time of year. 

But the presidential election race is lighting up the winter murk of the Nordic nation, as Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike. 

Finland’s EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen is the latest, and last, main candidate to join the slate for January’s vote. And she’s left it late.  

The Social Democrat’s belated entry to the race betrays her prospects of winning – Urpilainen reportedly declared only now to allow herself the maximum time away from her EU job without actually losing it. 

She won’t even start campaigning in earnest until December, which has meant that senior figures from her party have been left with the bizarre indignity of making public appearances holding a life-size cutout of the former finance minister just to try and keep her name in the public eye, while other candidates had launched their campaigns months before. 

The powers of the Finnish president have shrunk over the last four decades but the officeholder still takes the lead on foreign policy outside of the EU and is commander-in-chief of the Finnish military. It’s one of the few presidential roles in Europe that is both directly elected by the people and wields executive powers. 

The foreign and security policy campaign

Finland’s entry into NATO, and the geopolitical realities of being Russia’s neighbour during a time of war, have put a spotlight on this election like never before. It’s attracted some ‘big beast’ candidates with experience as prime minister, foreign ministers, party leaders, MEPs, and EU Commissioners on their resumes. 

“We are now at the heart of Finnish security and foreign policy issues,” says Pekka Haavisto, a Green politician who was runner-up in the last two presidential elections and is a frontrunner this time round too. The former UN Special Representative and foreign minister would become Finland’s first Green, and first gay president if elected. 

“People are asking about NATO, the future of Russia, the defence cooperation agreement with the US. And now in the last week there were many questions about the Middle East and how that influences world politics,” he tells Euronews. 

“Even China and Taiwan issues come up regularly, people are following the news closely.”

Haavisto has woven together a broad coalition of well-known supporters from across Finland’s political spectrum – including from the parties of his rivals – as well as household names in Finnish culture and sport to back his third bid for the presidency. 

“It was important to get those people with different political backgrounds behind my campaign, people have already made that choice based on personalities and not on traditional political party links. But for the first time in my campaign we have big names from the economic side too, and entrepreneurs,” he explains in an interview with Euronews as he heads to a campaign event in Eastern Finland. 

“It is an interesting phenomenon, to show that I am not just a [left-wing] candidate.” 

Former Prime Minister Alex Stubb is one of the other front-runners, with most polls showing the National Coalition Party candidate trailing Haavisto in the first round – where the outright winner would have to get more than 50% of the vote – and trailing in a possible second-round clash too. 

With an estimated €1.5 million from supporters and the right-wing National Coalition Party at his disposal, Stubb is running the richest campaign this election cycle. 

He benefits from having been out of Finnish domestic politics and above the fray in recent years, when he quit the country to work in Luxembourg and then Italy after leading his party to a fourth-place election defeat in 2015. A campaign to be ‘President of Europe’ also fell flat when he was defeated as the EPPs spitzenkandidat in a race that ultimately saw Ursula von der Leyen appointed to the role. 

While Stubb, also a former foreign minister and MEP, is undoubtedly at home on the international stage, a perceived lack of interest in domestic issues has dogged his political career. 

Being president would mean he’d have to spend significant amounts of time cutting ribbons, having tea with pensioners and visiting factories among the more routine and mundane tasks of the role, something party insiders concede he is ill-suited to. 


Life on the campaign trail

The presidential election campaign season in Finland is long, with prospective candidates often jostling for attention already during the summer and then, once declared, subjected to an endless round of panel discussions, radio and TV interviews, shopping mall stump speeches, and shaking countless hands at market place meet-and-greets the length and breadth of the country. 

“It’s a tough workload,” says Li Andersson, the Left Alliance candidate who is also the leader of her party. 

“I have to build my campaign around my work in parliament because that’s what I’m elected to do. In January we have a break in the parliamentary session and I will be able to use those weeks to tour around the country, and I’ll be using weekends in December for tours,” she tells Euronews. 

“I love meeting people, and you shouldn’t be in political affairs unless you love people. For me, that’s part of the job,” she adds. 

“There is a strong sense of seriousness around the country when you give a speech and have a Q&A when I go to a marketplace or coffee shop or library,” says OIli Rehn, a former EU Commissioner on leave during the campaign from his job as Governor of the Bank of Finland. 


“When you discuss foreign and security policy or what NATO membership implies, or Russian aggression or the president’s constitutional powers, there is a very strong and deep silence in the room and you can feel that people are very focused. There is a sense of seriousness in the campaign this time round,” the Centre Party candidate tells Euronews. 

Despite the serious nature of the campaign overall, there’s also a lot of fluff in the hoops that Finland expects its presidential candidates to jump through to entertain voters and show some of their personality. 

In the past, they’ve had to endure cooking segments on morning TV shows, while this time around candidates appeared on a prime-time Saturday variety show where a band played their favourite song and they had to tell the audience the story behind it – the sort of format a cynic would say is ripe for exploitation by any clever politician, who can concoct an emotional tale to warm even the iciest of Finnish voters’ hearts. 

“These so-called lighter programmes have become part and parcel of all election campaigns at least in Finland. I take it as a fact rather than think whether I like it or not, I try to enjoy it as much as possible,” says Rehn, who recently stood outside a Helsinki library making lemonade with students to encourage them to become entrepreneurs. 

“People are interested because they want to have the chance to glimpse and see the character and personality of the candidates.” 


Smaller parties get equal billing during campaign

Traditionally in Finland, smaller parties have put forward a presidential candidate even if there’s no realistic chance of winning or reaching the second round. Individuals too can run for office if they first collect more than 20,000 signatures from voters.  

This year there are candidates running from all the major political parties in parliament, including the Finns Party, Christian Democrats and Movement Now, but not the Swedish People’s Party. There are also individual declared fringe candidates who are unlikely to gather enough support to get on the ballot. 

“There is a very competitive list of candidates who have ministerial jobs, and like myself who was head of a foreign policy think tank,” explains independent candidate Mika Aaltola, who did collect enough signatures and polled high during the spring and summer, but whose support has since cooled off. 

“Clearly it is a crossroads for Finland, the citizens and political parties want to put forward candidates who have a lot of credible experience,” he adds. While Aaltola has the foreign policy chops as head of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs – he first broke through after a string of clear-headed fact-based media appearances when Russia invaded Ukraine – his lack of direct political experience has shown through as the race goes on. 

He concedes that his campaign has only €25,000 in the bank, a fraction of most other candidates, and he relies heavily on a team of volunteers.  


“I don’t have a PR agency or comms agency creating a campaign strategy. All that is missing,” he tells Euronews after a turbulent couple of weeks when he endured bad press following a series of gaffes which a more seasoned political operator would have known how to avoid in the first place. 

The Left Alliance’s Li Andersson explains that it’s “important for democracy that you have a broad representative of candidates with views on foreign and security policy, and smaller parties can raise important questions for us and for a lot of voters too.” 

Polling in the middle of the pack so far, Andersson is the youngest candidate in the field but has been party leader for the last eight years. As an MP she sat on the foreign affairs committee in parliament; she was minister of education in Sanna Marin’s government, and lead her party through two successful general election campaigns. 

“This is the fora for talking about foreign and security policy, which is a hugely important part of the conversation in Finland,” she says. 

The first round of the Finnish presidential election is held on 28 January. If no single candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, a second round featuring the top two candidates will be held on 11 February.


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Finland faces autumn of discontent with strikes and protests

Trade union leaders say the right-wing government is a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ administration: cutting benefits to the poor, but rewarding the rich with tax breaks.


Finland’s right-wing government is facing an autumn of discontent as trade unions and students put pressure on it over cuts to social welfare, the erosion of employment rights and job security, and new restrictions on international students who want to stay in the Nordic nation.

Trade union leaders have branded Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s government a ‘reverse Robin Hood administration’ slashing benefits for the poor while rewarding the rich with tax cuts.

The most visible recent protests began with students occupying Helsinki University, a movement now entering its third week for which a thousand university staff members have signed a letter of support. Organisers say the movement has “spread like wildfire” to every other major university in the country.

“We support the students’ views, and the University leadership understands the occupiers’ concerns about the livelihood of students,” says Vice-Rector Kai Nordlund in a statement.

Students say they’ve endured enough cuts, and a line must be drawn. 

“During the last decade the welfare support that Finnish students receive has been constantly cut, and this government is continuing that, worsening the situation for students and forcing us to take on more debt in order to study which means when we graduate we have a huge amount of debt to pay off,” says Havu Laakso, one of the  students occupying Helsinki University.

Laakso and their compatriots start the week with a boost to morale after a standoff with authorities, which ordered them out before Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö was due to speak at a recent event in the building. At the eleventh hour the university capitulated and the students, whose ranks had swelled with the prospect of forced eviction, managed to make plenty of noise during Niinistö’s speech.

“This current government also wants to increase tuition fees and tighten immigration policy making it so that international students only have three months to find a job once they graduate, or they get kicked out,” Laakso tells Euronews.

Experts have been baffled as to why the current government would cut housing allowances, while at the same time needs to attract thousands of foreign workers to fill traditionally low-paid jobs like nursing and elderly care – workers who rely on exactly these sorts of benefits to make ends meet; and also why there would be such a tight timeline imposed on international graduates whose skills are needed if Finland wants to be one of Europe’s most innovative and tech-lead economies. 

One politician from the ruling National Coalition Party ratcheted up the rhetoric over the weekend by framing the students as ‘left-wing invaders’ who were unreasonably demanding more grants and allowances from the state; while opposition politicians from the Social Democrats questioned why members of parliament were willing to make welfare cuts, but not willing to go to the protest and explain why they were doing it, face-to-face.

What would Jesus do? Finland’s churches get involved

Meanwhile a Helsinki parish church described it as “ungodly” to cut money from already low-income and disadvantaged people, and the official Turku Cathedral social media accounts posted a similar message of support, saying “caring for your loved ones is part of the Christian faith, regardless of party affiliation.” 

The ‘occupy education’ strikes have even spread to some Finnish high schools, first in the capital region and now several other cities, as the union representing high school students, Lukio, encourages its teenage members to speak up.

“There are a lot of protests taking place everywhere around the country, and I think the government will have to pay attention, but I’m not too hopeful they will change,” Lukio chairperson Ella Siltanen tells Euronews.

The Finnish government promised to send a statement to Euronews about the ongoing situation, but failed to do so before publication.

Government’s attempts at labour market reform

Alongside cuts to student benefits and tighter immigration measures, the government is also proposing some of the widest reforms to the labour market in decades, and while experts agree that Finland’s social security system and labour market regulations are ripe for overhaul, Finns are reluctant to embrace wholesale change.

A previous attempt at sweeping reforms in the early 1990s fell by the wayside after unions threatened a nationwide general strike; and more recently, the introduction of a so-called ‘activation model’ to get people off benefits and into employment introduced by PM Juha Sipilä’s government in 2018 was met with widespread protests, as it essentially punished unemployed jobseekers who couldn’t find work. 

The deeply unpopular activation model was largely rolled back by the next, left-wing, government after it was revealed more than 90,000 people had their benefits cut.

Unions launch three weeks of targeted strike action

The current government swept into office on a promise to limit government borrowing, and rein in what they viewed as the ‘profligate’ spending of the Sanna Marin administration.


But they’ve already blown through their own €10 billion borrowing limit, and are now acquiring debt at the same rate as Marin’s government, putting to rest any lingering notion that the fiscally conservative National Coalition Party is somehow naturally better at handling the economy than its left-wing counterpart the Social Democrats.

“I think we have to go back to the 1990s before we had this kind of government,” explains Jarkko Eloranta, the President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK.

“This is not an austerity budget the government has introduced, because they are giving tax relief for the most wealthy, like lowering taxes for people earning morning than €80,000 per year,” he tells Euronews.

“This is a reverse Robin Hood government, it takes from the poor and gives to the rich so in that sense it is only an austerity budget for low-income people.”

As part of the wider protests, Eloranta’s SAK has announced three weeks of targeted strike action in different sectors, and in different parts of the country. The union is flexing its muscle, hoping to give the government a taste of what could happen if they don’t walk back some of the policies that unions find problematic.


“Of course we have other plans ahead if the situation continues, and I am quite sure the government is not shaken or backing down due to our current activities,” says Eloranta, hinting at the possible escalation of strike action. 

Finnish media reports that Minister of Finance Riikka Purra, leader of the far-right Finns Party, has refused to meet with senior trade union leaders since taking office in June. 

“The government says they are listening but there’s no real discussions, no real negotiations, they are just implementing their own policies,” says Eloranta.

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Explained | What made Turkey green-light Sweden joining NATO?

The story so far: A day ahead of a key summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Monday, July 10, checked off a major task from its agenda for this year. It finally reached a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let Sweden into the military alliance. This came after a year of negotiations and global leaders lobbying Mr. Erdogan to drop his veto against Sweden, which he contended was harbouring “terrorist groups.”

Related: Explained | Why is Turkey against Sweden, Finland joining NATO?

What is the procedure to join NATO? 

There are some minimum requirements for a country to be eligible to join NATO, such as upholding democracy, tolerating diversity, respecting the sovereignty of other countries and so on. 

Once a country applies for NATO membership, they are signed on to a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a mechanism used by every new member that joined between 1999 and 2020. Sweden and Finland, the most recent applicants, however, did not use this procedure.

Once a country has met the requirements and expressed its intention to join NATO, it is invited to do so if all member countries agree. This marks the beginning of accession talks, which end with the signing of the Accession Protocol. 

All member countries— 31 at present— have to sign the Protocol and then get it ratified by their national legislatures, subsequently submitting the ratified instrument to the United States government, which is the depositary of the Treaty. 

Since all existing members have to undertake this process, the Turkish President’s disagreement over Sweden has effectively acted as a veto power. 

When did Sweden apply to join NATO?

In May 2022, two Nordic countries, Sweden and Finland, applied to join NATO, the organisation whose initial goal was to block the erstwhile Soviet Union’s expansion in Europe post the Second World War.

These countries have historically had a policy of military ‘non-alignment.’ While the two countries co-operated with NATO as closely as a non-member could, they did not apply for official membership until last year. In the past, they have held joint military drills with NATO, shared intelligence and have supported NATO’s military missions abroad. 

It was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine that largely triggered the countries’ bid to join NATO. The Russian military operation in Ukraine was seen by many as Russia violating the sovereignty of a weaker power in its neighbourhood. It also raised questions as to whether Russia would have started the war if Ukraine had been a NATO member. While Sweden and Finland did not have a border issue with Russia, neither did Ukraine until the Crimean annexation by Moscow in 2014. Sweden and Finland were now worried about a potential future border conflict. The war virtually changed the security dynamic in the region and prompted the two nations to apply for NATO membership, believing that it would act as a deterrent.

However, the membership bids of the countries hit a year-long impasse owing to the objections of one NATO member— Turkey. While Turkey agreed earlier this year to let Finland join the alliance, it held out on Sweden’s bid.

Why was Turkey against Sweden’s NATO membership?

Turkey has argued that Sweden and Finland have ties with “terrorist” groups — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has waged an armed insurgency since the mid-1980s. The YPG is the armed wing of Syrian Kurdistan which controls parts of the Kurdish region in Syria. The PKK is also deemed a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Meanwhile, Sweden has criticised Turkey for human rights abuses, especially in Kurdish regions, and questioned its democratic standards— which has not gone down with politicians in Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan said Sweden, and Finland to a certain extent, maintained close ties with Kurdish militias, particularly the YPG. It also accused the countries of hosting supporters of the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious sect led by the U.S.-based Gulen accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed 2016 coup against Mr. Erdogan. It also alleged that the two Nordic countries refused to extradite 33 people wanted by Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan was also upset by an arms shipment embargo imposed by the two countries on Turkey from 2019 after its incursion into Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. As a concession to get Turkey on board for their NATO bid, Sweden lifted the ban last year.

In June 2022, following negotiations, Turkey agreed to let Finland and Sweden join NATO provided they worked on counter-terrorism measures. In March this year, Turkey said it was satisfied with Finland’s efforts and ratified its Accession Protocol, but said that Sweden had not done enough.

Earlier this year, protests in Stockholm where the Quran was burned also added to Turkey’s disagreement. On a separate occasion, an effigy of Erdogan was hanged upside down, as per a Reuters report.

What softened Turkey’s stance on Sweden?

A look at some simultaneous developments and at the Joint Statement by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Erdogan, and Swedish Prime Ulf Kristersson indicates that the reasons for Turkey’s change in stance are multi-fold. 

“Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter- terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye, all steps set out in the Trilateral Memorandum agreed in 2022,” the joint release outlines. 

The two countries also agreed to create a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at ministerial level. NATO reiterated that it condemns terrorism and decided to create the post of Special Coordinator for Counter-terrorism for the alliance.

While these are efforts toward Turkey’s original objection about Sweden harbouring “terrorist groups,” Ankara has managed to get a lot more in return for its green light to Sweden’s NATO bid.

Mr. Erdogan this week said he would clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, if Turkey was allowed to join the European Union. Turkey launched its bid to join the EU in 2005, but some of Mr. Erdogan’s internal politics led to an indefinite suspension of talks. In 2016, the European Parliament had voted to suspend talks after noting human rights violations, jailing of dissidents, and deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey, and how the President strengthened his grip on the country’s leadership.

While Mr. Erdogan’s proposal was brushed off by the EU and Washington, Sweden promised that it would support some of Turkey’s bids to join and some of its demands at the EU. These demands include the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

Analysts also point out another potentially significant development: U.S President Joe Biden announced hours after the NATO deal with Turkey that the White House would move forward with a deal to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. 

In 2019, Washington had dropped Turkey from a programme to develop and produce F-35 fighter jets after the latter purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia. America has also imposed sanctions on Turkey. Since then, Turkey has demanded that it be allowed to purchase F-16 jets and optimise the ones it already had.

What does Sweden’s membership mean for NATO?

Firstly, this membership aligns with NATO’s expansion plans. Second, it helps consolidate NATO’s security efforts and defence integration in the Nordic, Baltic region, and Arctic regions. All other Nordic countries are already members of the alliance.

It also brings NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Further, Sweden has a sophisticated army and defence technology, which could benefit NATO.

For Sweden, it means securing NATO protections that only formal membership brings. For instance, Article 5 of NATO says that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.

What’s next?

The Turkish President has said he will get Sweden’s Accession Protocol ratified in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly as soon as possible. It is yet to be seen how long his administration will take to introduce the document in the legislature and convince hard line politicians who are against Sweden over the alleged Kurdish ties.

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5 things we already know about Finland’s new right-wing government

From tax cuts to climate change, increased VAT to Finland’s international reputation, here’s some key things you should know.

The setting and symbolism couldn’t have been more striking, or more different. 

After the 2019 Finnish election, the parties of the new coalition government presented their policy programme in Helsinki’s spectacular Oodi Central Library in the morning over coffee, and took questions from the public and journalists alike — before embarking on a tour of town halls up and down the country to have conversations with voters about the future direction of Finland. 

Compare that with 2023, when the four parties which make up Finland’s new coalition government summoned journalists at 6pm on a Friday evening, no members of the public allowed, to unveil their policy agenda — which came after seven weeks of fractious negotiations.

The right-wing National Coalition Party, known locally as Kokoomus, emerged from the April general election with the most seats in parliament, and partnered with the next biggest group, the far-right Finns Party. Also on board are the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party, with Kokoomus leader Petteri Orpo as Finland’s next prime minister. 

So what are some of the key things we know already about the new government programme, and how might it all unfold now: 

1. This is the most right-wing Finnish government in modern times

Kokoomus has a vocal EU-sceptic and immigrant-sceptic wing. The Christian Democrats’ best-known MP is anti-abortion, and became something of a cause celebre among the US Christian right when she carried a bible into court to face charges of being anti-LGBT. She was later cleared

Meanwhile, the Finns Party’s track record on immigration, the EU and fighting the climate crisis speaks for itself. 

There are also several Finns Party MPs, including senior party members, with convictions for race-related crimes, and the younger cadre of Finns Party politicians who came to prominence during the last two election cycles have a fondness for Donald Trump’s MAGA movement. 

“Petteri Orpo’s government programme is building a European, free and secure Finland that will not just sit on its hands,” insists Kokoomus MP Elina Valtonen, who is likely to land one of the big ministerial portfolios in the new government.

“A strong and caring NATO Finland, where consumer choice increases, entrepreneurship pays, skills are valued, living standards rise and nature is cared for,” she adds. 

But political analyst Juho Rahkonen says “we have a more right-wing government than perhaps ever before,” a stark contrast to outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s five-party center-left coalition.

Finns Party leader Riikka Purra said the Nordic nation should opt for a tougher immigration line, and called for stricter asylum policy, time-limited protection of asylum-seekers, mandatory integration, and plans to reduce the number of quota refugees, saying those policies would amount to “a paradigm shift.”

2. The Swedish People’s Party is taking a reputational gamble

No party has more at stake in this coalition government than the Swedish People’s Party SFP/RKP. 

With ten seats in parliament, they are the only party which was also in the previous government — an administration which put intersectional feminism at the heart of policymaking with Sanna Marin as prime minister.

Over the last four years they’ve moved further to the left on issues of internationality, multi-culturalism, human rights and immigration — an anathema to the Finnish right-wing.  

Before negotiations, SFP/RKP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson said she wouldn’t be in the government if it was doing Finns Party politics, but she seems to have capitulated and it’s difficult to see at this stage what she has actually won for her party — except perhaps to prolong Finland’s widely-criticised fur farming industry, which employs around two thousand people, many of them in her own constituency area. 

For a party that’s already divided between it’s Ostrobothnia ‘countryside’ voters and the southern coastal ‘city’ voters, the Swedish People’s Party might have lost the chance to appeal to other non-Swedish-speaking Finns, immigrants and young people as potential voters, by joining up with a far-right party in government — indeed their own youth group leadership quit the government formation talks in protest at cooperation with the Finns Party, and Henriksson admitted on Friday that still not all her MPs were in favour of being in government with them.  

3. Four billion in savings needed

Petteri Orpo promised to find €4 billion in savings to reduce Finland’s debt, and that means a mixture of cuts — which are never popular with the people on the receiving end — and cost savings or fundraising in the form of increasing items with a 10% VAT to 14%, making it even more expensive to buy medicines, take part in sports, go to the cinema or cultural events, or book a hotel room. 

“Before the elections, we promised to put the country’s affairs in order. We promised an adjustment of €6 billion and 100,000 new jobs,” says Kokoomus MP Sinuhe Wallinheimo

Most of the savings are coming from €1.5 billion cuts to social security, and by re-jigging how regional healthcare systems are funded from the central government to generate efficiency savings. 

There will be freezes for the next four years on earnings-related unemployment insurance, housing allowance and some other benefits. 

There’s cuts of €125 million for education and culture grants, and an adult education subsidy will also be scrapped. Some €250 million will be cut from funding for new roads projects and another €250 million from development aid budgets. 

Tax on beer will decrease, but taxes on wines, spirits and soft drinks will go up. 

“There is enough money for investors and high earners, but poor families with children, students and the elderly are being cut,” says Jussi Saramo, chair of the Left Alliance Parliamentary Group. 

“For example, massive housing benefit cuts will hit students, single parents and those working in low-wage jobs hard,” he says. 

4. Fighting the climate crisis

The previous Finnish government were enthusiastic about setting targets to meet and even exceed international agreements on carbon emissions – even if they were less enthusiastic about taking enough concrete steps to meet those goals fast enough. 

Within the new government, the Finns Party has been opposed to the idea that Finns — who they say are among the least polluting people on the planet — should have to take radical steps to fight the climate crisis when this should be done by big polluting countries instead. 

They’ve also wanted to lower the price of petrol and resisted calls to reduce the number of petrol cars on Finnish roads. 

“The new government is very much leaning towards the conservative right and takes Finland backwards when it comes to climate action and biodiversity protection,” says Ville Niinistö, a Finnish Green MEP. 

“The financing for nature protection is reduced by one-third from the previous Marin government and therefore we have no tools to protect our forests and waterways in line with global commitments to stop biodiversity loss,” he tells Euronews. 

Niinistö notes that while the new government doesn’t formally back down on the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2035, its policies are “leading away from that goal”. 

The new government plans to reduce tax on petrol by €100 million, and reduce vehicle taxes by €50 million. 

5. Finland’s international reputation could take a hit

In large part thanks to Sanna Marin’s profile, Finland has enjoyed unprecedented good press internationally over the last four years. 

From being the happiest country in the world to putting extra money into development aid for women and children when the Trump administration withdrew support, Finland has shored up its credentials as a reliable partner. 

But now there will be cuts to international aid, amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. Finland will also be less welcoming to asylum seekers and so-called ‘quota migrants.’  

And having a far-right party in power probably doesn’t do a lot to burnish Finland’s brand image as a friendly, welcoming country. 

Kokoomus MP Saara-Sofia Sirén says that in the new government programme, Finland “promotes the rights of women and girls across its foreign policy.” 

“The priorities of the government’s development policy are strengthening the status of women and girls, the right to self-determination, and sexual and reproductive health,” but doesn’t address whether budget cuts to international aid will impact the scope or scale of the services which Finland currently funds.

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Finland election: The issues making headlines on the campaign trail

The latest election polling in Finland is too close to call between the incumbent Social Democrats, the conservative National Coalition Party and the far-right nationalist Finns Party. 

Any one of those parties could find themselves in pole position to lead a new government when all the votes are counted. 

Every policy question is being closely scrutinised by the media, every media gaffe or public slip-up is being pounced upon, and the three main party leaders — Sanna Marin, Petteri Orpo, Riikka Purra — are under the microscope like never before. 

So what are some of the main policy strengths and weaknesses the parties face? 

This election season it’s more about traditional party ideology — left versus right — than values-based issues like the environment, equality, or even joining NATO, which is now done and dusted. 

Marin’s Social Democrats have been under fire from right-wing opponents for what they see as wasteful economic policies that have done nothing but add to Finland’s debt burden in an irresponsible way over the last four years. 

And Marin herself has come under fire for comments she made during a recent trip to Kyiv, and not just from rival politicians. Commercial television channel MTV3 wrote an editorial branding her “either completely ignorant or downright unscrupulous” for saying that Finland “could” talk about giving up its Hornet fighters to Ukraine, with the Nordic nation waiting for deliveries of their next generation fighters from the US starting in 2025. 

The country’s most-read newspaper Helsingin Sanomat went as far as to say the Hornet issue (Finnish politicians can be particularly prickly around discussions of national security) could tip the balance of Sunday’s election. 

There’s also regular criticism that Marin rarely — if ever — takes responsibility for policy missteps and instead likes to pass the blame on to her opponents (which, to be fair, is something that most politicians try to do!) 

The National Coalition Party — or Kokoomus as it’s known locally — has been criticised by politicians and economists who say its plans to balance the national budget simply don’t add up, and they’ll have to cut so deeply into basic services that it would hurt the lives of everyone in the country.

This week, economist Jussi Ahokas told public broadcaster Yle that Finland is “in a very good situation” compared to European countries when it comes to finances.

Kokoomus also has a problem that it’s seen by many — and repeatedly framed by Marin — as being too close to the far-right nationalists: and if you vote for Kokoomus, you’ll end up with a Finns Party government. 

For their part, the Finns Party are perennially dogged by allegations of racism and xenophobia among their candidates; they’ve promised to take Finland out of the EU in one manifesto, while at the same time also said that’s not their goal any more.

Their humourless leader Riikka Purra drew astonished gasps by saying on TV that culture was a “luxury” item – a hard sell in a country which revels in its rich literary, musical and visual arts scene: from small-town libraries to big international festivals and all points in between.

But what do election candidates on the streets, in the market places and in shopping centres talk to voters about?

Ahead of Sunday’s election, Euronews spoke with candidates on the campaign trail to find out which policies are most important to them, and where their opponents are falling short.

Finland’s Minister for Transport and Communications Timo Harakka tells Euronews that his political opponents have dropped the ball when it comes to education policies. 

“Kokoomus has been in charge through the 2010s when Finland cut education and research and development funding, and fell behind in percentage of college graduates. 

They broke their explicit promise not to cut education in 2015 and removed the right for every child to attend pre-school,” the Social Democrat MP explains.

“They opposed the Marin government’s school reform, which extended compulsory education until 18-years-old, just as they opposed equal comprehensive education back in the 1970s. 

“Again, now, they vow otherwise. They cannot make the cuts they propose without jeopardising our good school system,” he says. 

Green candidate Alviina Alametsä says that her party has put a particular focus on mental health services. 

“We are pushing different ways to prevent mental health issues including with universal basic income, and the wellbeing of nature,” she tells Euronews. 

Alametsä, who is one of Finland’s two Green MEPs in Brussels, says that programmes like one in Helsinki where three clinics provide therapy for free, are a good example of the concrete changes they’d like to see. 

“I am worried though, that if the National Coalition Party is making it to government, or if they are the prime minister, I am worried they will put a lot of cuts to education and mental health budgets, and to social security.”

“I think they are trying to push for economic growth from the wrong angle, and we have research to show this is not working.” 

National Coalition Party politician Sinuhe Wallinheimo represents a constituency in Central Finland, and says that other parties aren’t concerned enough about the economic “crisis” in Finland. 

“And by that I mean the amount of debt that Finland has right now, and what has to be done about it,” he tells Euronews. 

“I think in my party we are better at pro-market politics than the other ones. We rely on the state but we believe in pro-market and competition between individuals, and competition between the companies, which is better for society,” he adds. 

“When we discuss immigration policy, I believe our party understands the facts,” says Fatim Diarra, who is a Green League candidate in Helsinki. 

“We need people to come to Finland, but at the same time we cannot treat immigrants as cows we milk to put money into the system. But instead, we must see Finland as a place where we welcome people to build a life to suit their circumstances,” she tells Euronews.

Diarra, who missed out on a seat in parliament in the 2019 election by just 200 votes, says that people who come to Finland to make a better life for themselves need access to education and labour markets, and shouldn’t only be thought of as candidates for low paid jobs. 

“Some parties see immigration only as a tool to make people work for Finns. When I discuss this with people from some parties, they want immigrants to work in the service industry and health care.

“They see immigration as a cheap labour force, but this is not the way the Greens see it. Finland is a good country, our social structure is strong and we welcome people to come here and build a good life for themselves.” 

The city of Jyväskylä in Central Finland has traditionally been a bastion of support for the Centre Party, Keskusta. Once a powerhouse of Finnish politics, Keskusta has slumped dramatically over the last four years despite being in government, and they’re now polling their lowest ever numbers. 

They are predicted to lose up to ten seats on Sunday. 

MP Joonas Könttä, a former Finnish diplomat, says his party’s focus has been on “aluepolitikka” or regional policies. 

“We want to take care of the countryside and the cities, so the same level of services are available all over the country,” he tells Euronews. 

“No other parties are underlining the possibilities of the whole country.”

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Everything you need to know about Finland’s general election

Voters in Finland go to the polls on Sunday in a general election that could see a change of both prime minister and ruling coalition government. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Finnish politics, parties, personalities and the issues at stake as the Nordic nation votes: 

How did we get here?

The last general election in April 2019 saw Prime Minister Antti Rinne brought to power, leading a new red-green administration. 

If you don’t remember Rinne, that’s because he lasted less than six months in office and was replaced by Sanna Marin before the end of that year after some internal squabbles with the Centre Party. 

A Centre Party leadership change resulted in that famous female-lead government lineup in Finland — where all five party leaders were women, with four of them under the age of 35 at the time — which put intersectional feminism at the heart of government policymaking. 

There was yet another change of leader at the Centre Party in 2020  parliament, but it still left five women heading the government — unprecedented in Finland or anywhere around the world. 

How does an election in Finland work?

Up for grabs on 2 April are 200 seats in the Finnish Parliament — or Eduskunta — including one representative from the autonomous Åland Islands (which also has its own small parliament in the capital Mariehamn, to govern on devolved issues). 

Early voting already got underway from 22 to 28 March at locations around the country (and from 22 to 25 March at Finnish embassies. According to the Ministry of Justice’s election information service, by Monday morning some 25.9% of people had cast their ballots ahead of Sunday’s election day. 

Unlike some other Nordic and Baltic countries, there’s no minimum threshold for parties to get into parliament, but if a party gets more than 2% of votes nationally they qualify for state funding in the future. 

Which are the main parties?

At the last election in 2019 there were nine parties returned to parliament, spanning from the Left Alliance on one side of the political spectrum, to the far-right populist Finns Party on the other. 

There’s been a bit of splintering in parliament since then — one Finns Party MP was expelled after being too racist, and set up his own solo parliamentary group; while a National Coalition Party MP lost the support of his party’s leadership after allegations surfaced about his conduct with young women, and he also flew solo (he’s since decided to stand as a Finns Party candidate in April’s election). 

There was very little to separate the top three parties in 2019 — Social Democrats, Finns Party and National Coalition Party — with just one seat between each of them, and the polling is equally close at this election too.  

Social Democrats: This is the ruling centre-left party headed by Sanna Marin. Traditionally pro-union, more recently a political home for immigrants and people with a foreign background, Marin has positioned the party as more progressive and pro-European than ever before. A criticism however has been that Marin does not have a wide circle of political advisers, can tend to take decisions on her own, and it has been reported there’s nobody around her to say “no” even when needed. 

National Coalition Party: A right-wing, conservative political party headed by Petteri Orpo, and part of the EPP on a European level. Orpo’s not the most charismatic leader, and has historically struggled in debates with other more competent party leaders. The National Coalition Party, or Kokoomus as it’s known in Finland, is the only mainstream Finnish party never to have a female leader. 

Finns Party: A far-right populist movement, the Finns Party has done well to position itself as a place where protest voters can find a home: even as topics on which they traditionally focuse like immigration, have become less of an issue during this election campaign. The party’s leader Riikka Purra can come across as dour: but her plain style of speaking, and the party’s increasing use of TikTok, has seen them really connect with younger voters in particular. However there are still a lot of issues along the way, with allegations of racism in this campaign, and a number of Finns Party MPs with court convictions for race-related charges.  

Centre Party: Keskusta was a powerhouse of Finnish politics for decades, and even two governments ago was the largest party in parliament, when Juha Sipilä was prime minister. Since a terrible election result in 2019 when voters punished them for their part in austerity policies, Keskusta is on its third leader in Annika Saarikko who has marched her party down to its lowest every polling numbers. If they do as badly as predicted at this election, losing 5-10 seats, her time in office should be measured in minutes rather than hours: but you can never count Keskusta out in Finnish politics. 

Green League: Finland’s Greens have also been having a rough time of it in this election campaign, and in Helsinki will certainly see their dominant position slip, as they lose voters to the Social Democrats. They’re very much an urban Green party, like many in Europe, and their leader Maria Ohisalo is a talented politician, but has been under-used in the current government as interior minister where she had less chance to shine, and now as environment minister. 

Left Alliance: Under the leadership of Li Andersson, one of the sharpest politicians in government, the Left Alliance have had a good four years, and are on target to pick up a few extra seats at this election. 

Swedish Peoples’ Party: The Swedish People’s Party are one of the constants of Finnish politics, easily able to adapt themselves across the political aisle, and have been part of almost every government since the early 1980s. Their conservative economic policies fit nicely with the right, while their socially liberal, pro-European and values-based politics fit easily with the left. After seven years as party leader, we could however see Anna-Maja Henriksson step down, but expect the election result to be stable nonetheless, with 10 MPs predicted.  

Christian Democrats: While the party has drifted further to the right over the last few years, and lost support, its leader (former world champion long-distance walker) Sari Essayah is well liked and widely respected in parliament which possibly opens doors to government when coalition building begins. 

Liike Nyt: The ‘Movement Now’ party was founded by millionaire businessman Hjallis Harkimo who has been compared to Donald Trump as the former host of the Finnish “Apprentice” TV show, and because he appears to be trying to create a political dynasty with both his son and daughter running for parliament in next Sunday’s vote. Liike Nyt are unlikely to get more than one MP – Harkimon himself – into parliament as they bank on his own personal popularity especially among the small business community. A party which started out as an interesting experiment in democracy — Likke Nyt originally wanted to take positions on issues in parliament based on what their members voted in online polls — has largely just become a vanity project for Harkimo. 

There are also a dozen or so other, smaller, parties fielding candidates for the election. A number of them are on the extreme far right — basically neo-Nazi and white power parties — as well as the Feminist Party, an animal rights party and the Liberal Party. The Liberals (which started out life as the Whisky Party!) have been gaining ground for a few years especially around the Helsinki capital city region. Although it still seems like a reach for them to get a candidate elected to parliament, they might just cross the 2% threshold to receive state funding for their party going forward. 

Main policy themes

This is an unprecedented election in many ways: Sanna Marin’s government lead the country through the COVID pandemic, to general (if often grudging) satisfaction at home (but a fair amount of international praise).  

Marin also goes down in history as the prime minister who launched her country’s NATO application process. 

Previously, Finland had been closely aligned militarily with NATO and the West but not actually a member of the 28-nation alliance. That all changed in early spring 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Finnish public opinion swung suddenly in favour of joining NATO. 

Marin is credited with not only taking Finland down the path of NATO membership but with pulling Sweden in the same direction: and it looks as if she might still be PM if both holdouts, Hungary and Turkey, ratify within the next several weeks. 

During the last election campaign, values issues like the environment, immigration and equality were important themes but this year there has been much more emphasis on the economy, the cost of living crisis, and spending prioirities for whoever gets into government.

“In the end, everything boils down to money one way or another. Whether we are talking about social politics, or education or national debt, I think everything is about money,” says Jenny Kärimäki, a political history researcher at the University of Helsinki. 

“Of course it’s all about where the money goes, and that’s an ideological choice, so we are back to discussing these very very traditional left-right issues,” she tells Euronews. 

One important factor in this election is Sanna Marin herself, explains Kärimäki, as the PM continues to perform strongly in the polls — better than her party, and better when measures against other party leaders. 

“If you look at opinion polls when people are asked whether they think Sanna Marin has done a good job, then her rating is always significantly higher than the rating for the Social Democratic Party. So she is definitely an asset to them. Then again, one can only vote for her in one electoral district,” says Kärimäki. 

“Then again, Sanna Marin as a figure, although she has a lot of support across party lines, there are also people who dislike her very intensely.” 

Any political blunders along the way?

No election campaign – indeed, no parliamentary cycle – is complete without some blunders along the way, and Sanna Marin in particular is no stranger to apologising for things that went wrong. 

In December 2021 she had to apologise for going on a night out to a Helsinki bar after the foreign minister got a positive COVID result. In summer 2022 she again felt she needed to apologise after videos of her dancing with friends, and dancing closely with a man in a nightclub went viral. She submitted to a drugs test (which also came back negative) and apologised yet again after two of her friends posted topless pictures in the official residence. 

She was also forced to apologise after a Euronews investigation found that little or no work had been done to advance a new piece of legislation on rights for Finland’s indigenous Sámi people, something which Marin had promised to get done. The bill ultimately failed at the last parliamentary committee hurdle.

None of this seems to have done her any harm in terms of domestic support, but critics have been harsh on her over more serious policy issues after she recently said during a visit to Kyiv that Finland “could” have a discussion about sending ageing Hornet fighter jets to Ukraine. 

After some Ukrainian media outlets latched onto this vague answer as if Marin had made a solemn promise, her political opponents at home have been trying to frame her as naive, ignorant or reckless not to have given a more concrete answer, that the Hornets were needed in Finland. 

Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat says the issue might even cost Marin the election.

Meanwhile none of the main party leaders covered themselves with glory at a recent television debate which descended into finger pointing and shouting — something decried in the papers as uncivilised and somehow deeply “un-Finnish” as this short clip demonstrates: 

The National Coalition Party is not without its policy problems as well. Long seen as the party of the comfortably well-heeled in Finland, they’ve recently had to flip-flop on cuts to student funding, and backtrack on other budget issues like how to balance the books and reduce national debt.

And the Finns Party caused a collective national gasp of horror recently when leader Riikka Purra said culture was a “luxury” item – a hard sell in a country which revels in its rich literary, musical and visual arts scene: from small town libraries to big international festivals and all points in between.  

When can we expect some results – and who might win?

We should know, more or less, the results of the election by midnight Helsinki time on Sunday evening. 

But that’s when the horse trading really starts. 

Some polling has suggested the Finns Party could win up to 49 seats, ahead of Kokoomus and the Social Democrats, tied in second place. 

If that is the case we could see a far-right lead government for the first time in Finland, a so-called black-blue government with the Finns Party, National Coalition Party, Christian Democrats and possibly Liike Nyt. 

“Some parties have now declared who they will not go into government with, but nobody has made the same kind of declarations about who the who they will go into government with,” explains the University of Helsinki’s Jenni Kärimäki.

“The Social Democrats, Greens, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party have declared they won’t go into government with the Finns Party. But then the Centre Party says it won join any government that looks like the current government,” she adds. 

If other parties don’t want to govern with the Finns Party — or if the National Coalition Party or Social Democrats find themselves in the lead even by a narrow majority — we could see a blue-red coalition instead, including the Swedish People’s Party and either Greens or Left Alliance. 

In case that alliance would be too left leaning to be palatable for Kokoomus politicians and voters, the Christian Democrats under leader Sari Essayah could find themselves with a token one minister to balance the scales. 

Or there could be another broad spectrum government, with Finns no strangers to so-called rainbow coalitions. 

“If we assume that Keskusta doesn’t go into government, then all we have left is a rainbow coalition. We are currently running out of options and combinations, and a rainbow coalition seems like that’s the way things are going,” says Jenni Kärimäki.

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Can ‘earthquake diplomacy’ help NATO chances for Sweden and Finland?

In the hours after two massive earthquakes hit southern Turkey, the well-oiled wheels of humanitarian assistance started turning in Sweden and Finland. 

The Nordic nations are locked in something of a stalemate with Ankara over their NATO memberships — as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan holds up the process, demanding that Stockholm and Helsinki meet strict criteria before moving forward with ratification. 

So could ‘earthquake diplomacy’ soften Turkey’s stance towards the NATO applicants? 

It’s worked before in the region. 

Back in 1999 a powerful quake hit near the Turkish city of İzmit, and the Greeks were among the first to respond with aid, despite decades of enmity between the two neighbours. A few months later when a magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit Athens, the Turks reciprocated with help. 

The show of neighbourly good faith led to Greece dropping its objections on Turkey becoming an EU candidate country — something policy makers in Finland and Sweden will be hoping to see repeated. 

What aid have Sweden and Finland given?

The Swedes have so far given €3.3 million in humanitarian support, and sent more than 50 search and rescue experts, search dogs, and medical teams to Turkey. 

“The core support that Sweden is already contributing makes a big difference on the ground in Türkiye and Syria,” said Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation Johan Forssell

Forssell said his government acted “swiftly and resolutely” but Dr Paul Levin at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies said they could have moved faster.

“Sweden was late providing aid.” 

“I don’t think that’s a lack of trying or will, but that Sweden is not good at swift disaster response,” he told Euronews, citing critical Royal Commissions into official responses to the 2004 Asia tsunami, and COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think we are unfortunately not good at disaster response,” Levin said.   

On the EU level, Sweden — which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council —  convened the bloc’s Integrated Political Crisis Response mechanism last week, to coordinate all EU support for both Turkey and Syria at political level.

Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson and Ursula von der Leyen also announced they’ll organise an international donor conference for Turkey and Syria in March.

In Finland, the government response has been fairly fast and robust, and loudly telegraphed to Ankara.  

Helsinki provided heated emergency accommodation, including tents and stoves, for 3,000 people; and coordinated delivery of supplies through NATO. 

The Finns have also sent search and rescue experts, and also contribute multilaterally through the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, which has so far given $50 million (€46.65 million).  

“Tens of thousands of people have died and the destruction is very extensive. The need for emergency accommodation in the area hit by the earthquake is huge,” said Finland’s Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen

“By sending material assistance, Finland aims to help people meet their basic needs. It is important that we provide help to the earthquake area as soon as possible.” 

What’s the situation in Ankara?

Whether Turkey’s government has the bandwidth to handle NATO applications during a time of unprecedented crisis is debatable. 

With a general election still scheduled for 14 May, Erdoğan had been using Sweden (and to a lesser extent, Finland) as a political straw man, painting the country as a place that harboured terrorists and as a risk to Turkey’s national security. 

If the election is somehow postponed, Erdogan might still need a bogeyman as a distraction to mounting political problems at home, a tactic that may not work so well a second time.  

“The NATO news in Finland has not fully taken into account how this massive human catastrophe has changed the Turkish political landscape and discussion,” explained Ozan Yanar, a Finnish politician who was born in Turkey, and served as a Greens MP from 2015-2019.

“Right now all the Turkish focus is on these earthquakes, and it will stay on earthquakes for a very long time,” Yanar told Euronews. 

Yanar said he thinks it unlikely any Turkish politician would try to shift the focus away from any official failings in earthquake preparedness or response, as they would find themselves “in the midst of huge political criticism.” 

“People are angry Turkey was not ready for this, and the state actions after the earthquakes have been very slow. People would be harshly disappointed and criticise the regime if they would start to speak about NATO, which is not the main topic in Turkey right now,” said Yanar, who is running for parliament again in Finland’s spring elections. 

What are the chances of 1999-style earthquake diplomacy?

Paul Levin from Stockholm University thinks the chances are low that anything Sweden and Finland do to help with humanitarian aid will move the needle for Turkey on ratifying NATO membership. 

“I just dont see any real impact in terms of public relations on the Turkish side,” he said bluntly, describing a country currently in turmoil, with a “messy” political situation. 

Quite the opposite: “If Erdogan sees he has been hurt by this, and sees he won’t be able to win the election, he has a strong incentive to pospone it,” said Levin. 

“The more desperate he becomes politically, the more appealing those kind of tactics will be. I think he will do just about anything to get re-elected.”

That could mean continuing to demonise Stockholm in particular, for failing to deport Kurds that Turkey says are terror suspects. 

Ankara wants Finland and Sweden to deport some 130 “terrorists” before it will approve their bids to join NATO. Erdogan declared in January that the Nordic countries must “hand over your terrorists,” with Sweden saying Turkey had made demands that could not — and would not — be met. 

“Maybe it’s a bit early to speculate what will happen, but so far I have not seen any of the positive outcomes of diplomacy,” said Levin.

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Jakara Anthony’s moguls gold-rush just the start for Australian winter sport

It has been an extraordinary 12 months for Jakara Anthony.

Twelve months ago, Anthony kicked off Australia’s most successful ever Winter Olympic Games by winning one of Australia’s four medals in Beijing.

Anthony was on fire that night, claiming Australia’s sixth-ever Winter Games gold medal on what was Australia’s own Super Sunday, following Tess Coady’s snowboard slopestyle bronze.

As Australia’s only gold medallist from those Games though, Anthony has gone from the relative anonymity most winter sports athletes enjoy between Olympic cycles to becoming seriously hot property.

An Olympic gold medal will do that.

Jakara Anthony has been untouchable on the mogul slopes this season.(OWIA: Chris Hocking)

Since her eye-catching performance on the slopes of the Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park, Anthony has popped up as a guest at the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Bells Beach leg of the World Surf League and even slid down the AFL’s Big Freeze slide at the MCG.

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