Finland chooses Stubb to counter Russian threat

The second round of presidential elections that took place this Sunday in Finland confirmed what the polls had expected: continuity of the conservatives at the helm of the Nordic country. Former prime minister and National Coalition Party candidate Alexander Stubb, 55, won against environmentalist former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, but by a narrower margin than polls had suggested at the start of the campaign. The official results broadcast by Finnish public television Yle, with almost 100% of votes counted, give Stubb 51.7% of the vote, compared to 48.3% for Haavisto. After twelve years in office, the new president will succeed Sauli Niinistö, who is also conservative.

Stubb, a well-known politician both inside and outside Finland, is the first president elected following the Nordic country’s historic entry into NATO last April after decades of military non-alignment. Therefore, his biggest challenge as head of Finland’s foreign and defense policy will be to counter the growing hostility of its troublesome neighbor Russia, with which the country shares a border of more than 1,340 square kilometers.

Over the past year, Finland has experienced mysterious failures in its critical infrastructure, cyberattacks on its institutions and an unusual avalanche of refugees at the border with Russia – incidents that Helsinki describes as hybrid aggression by the Kremlin. As a result, it has closed all border crossings with Russia since November 30.

When asked by Yle what the new president of Finland’s policy towards Moscow will be, Johanna Vuorelma, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, says that “Stubb takes a slightly more drastic line, while Haavisto is a bit more nuanced.” “He would like something like that Look, maybe for a not so steep line.”

During the election campaign, Stubb distanced himself from Haavisto on nuclear issues, who, as foreign minister, led the negotiations on Finland’s accession to NATO under the government of the Social Democrat Sanna Marin. The conservative candidate expressed his willingness for Atlantic Alliance nuclear weapons to be transported through Finnish territory. Position that had to condition the decision of Parliament to amend the current legislation prohibiting the transport or storage of nuclear weapons in the country. Stubb also supports the idea that Finland could station Alliance troops on national territory, which Haavisto rejects.

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However, the foreign policy differences between the two candidates were so small that the far-right Jussi Halla-aho, who came third in the first round with 19% support, did not give his more than 600,000 voters any voting instructions. before the second round, because in his opinion little would change if Stubb or Haavisto won.

Stubb, 55, who was prime minister between 2014 and 2015, returned to politics to run as a Conservative candidate in this presidential election after devoting the last four years to academia. He previously taught and directed the European University Institute in Florence after losing the European People’s Party (EPP) candidacy for the presidency of the European Commission to the German Manfred Weber in 2018. He was previously Vice President of the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Elected as a member of the European Parliament in 2004, he became involved in Finnish politics from 2008 and held several ministerial positions: Finance, Foreign and European Affairs, and Foreign Trade. As he himself admitted years later, one of his biggest mistakes as prime minister was giving the green light to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Finland in collaboration with the Russian state-owned company Rosatom.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, who defeated Stubb in the Conservative leadership race in 2016, last night highlighted the good harmony between the two: “We have an absolutely excellent relationship with Alex. It was important to me that he was our candidate. “It is particularly strong when it comes to foreign and security policy issues.”

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