Finland’s Climate Sceptic Party Set For Election Breakthrough

  • Date: 13/04/19
  • The New York Times

The climate-sceptical Finns Party has risen in recent weeks to be the second most-popular party among prospective voters. “Well-meaning people wanted to make these elections climate elections, but they only set the table for an election victory for the Finns Party.”

HELSINKI, Finland — When they really wanted to rile up conservative voters this spring, the politicians from Finland’s nationalist party made a beeline for the rawest subject in this year’s general election.

No, not immigration. Climate.

As Finland’s other parties competed with each other to offer ambitious climate goals ahead of Sunday’s general election, the Finns Party has seized on climate as a new front in the culture wars, warning its conservative, working-class supporters that they are being betrayed by urban elites.

Aggressive environmental measures will “take the sausage from the mouths of laborers,” warned a Finns Party politician, Matti Putkonen, in a recent televised debate. And, more important, from dogs and cats, whose food, he said, would increase in price by 20 to 40 percent.

“What are you going to say to the little girl or boy who cries when Mom and Dad say that they can’t afford it any longer?” he said. “And take the lovable pet to be put down?”

If that was not enough, he suggested contemptuously that, if the liberals got their way, dogs and cats would have to accept vegan substitutes for meat.The Finns Party, which has taken a strident line against action on climate change, campaigning for parliamentary elections in Helsinki.

The Finns Party, which has taken a strident line against action on climate change, campaigning for parliamentary elections in Helsinki.CreditHeikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva, via Associated Press

“How long do you think,” he asked, “will it take for dogs, that is, Musti and Mirri, to learn how to switch to pulled oats?”

The anti-climate language, coupled with the party’s longstanding anti-immigrant line, has paid off. The Finns Party, which polled at just 8.1 percent last November, has risen in recent weeks to be the second most-popular party among prospective voters, with 16.3 percent support. According to Taloustutkimus, a market research firm, much of the surge has come from voters who did not take part in previous elections.

Finland’s general election has broken a well-established pattern in northern Europe, where one political cycle after another has been powerfully defined by the issue of immigration. In December, the Finnish authorities announced a series of cases involving accusations of sexual abuse and rape of girls by male asylum seekers and refugees, but it still did not become a central election issue.

Instead, much of the debate has been dominated by climate, with nearly every major party proposing its own plan to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. The proposals have been wide-ranging and, in some cases, aggressive, like an eco-tax on meat and airfare and restrictions on logging. But this pivot did not marginalize the Finns Party, whose leaders discovered they could mobilize their electorate by casting climate policy as an elite agenda that would hurt ordinary people.

Some analysts, watching the Finns Party’s rise, have suggested that emphasizing climate has actually helped the right wing.

“Well-meaning people wanted to make these elections climate elections, but they only set the table for an election victory for the Finns Party,” wrote Saska Saarikoski, a political columnist for Helsingin Sanomat, on Twitter. “Could we learn something from this?”It was a carbon tax, increasing the cost of fuel, that ignited France’s Yellow Vest protests.CreditThibault Camus/Associated Press

It was a carbon tax, increasing the cost of fuel, that ignited France’s Yellow Vest protests.CreditThibault Camus/Associated Press

Already, many of Europe’s right-wing parties and movements have adopted similar emotional assaults on climate policy. It was a carbon tax, increasing the cost of fuel, that ignited France’s violent Yellow Vest protests. Germany’s far-right party, Alternative for Germany, has pushed back heavily against the science behind clean-air policy, which it has derided as “particulate matter hysteria.”

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