Foreign policy and security are existential questions, says Finnish presidential frontrunner

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - January 29, 2024
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Of the nine presidential candidates is Alexander Stubb with the National Coalition Party leading the latest polls. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Voters in Finland head to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election important for the country’s foreign policy amid tensions with Russia.

Some 27 percent of voters support Alexander Stubb according to the last poll, Finnish broadcaster YLE reports. Number two is former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (23%), followed by Jussi Halla-aho (18%) and Olli Rehn (14%).

A candidate needs more than half of votes cast to win, so most likely the election will go to a second ballot on February 11 with the two candidates that got most votes in the first round.

Alexander Stubb said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spurred his candidacy.

“For Finland, foreign policy, security policy, is existential, so it’s very consensual,” Stubb said at a campaign meeting this week, the Guardian reports.

Finland joined NATO in April last year.

“When it became evident, right at the beginning of the war, that our path towards the alliance would begin, I felt strongly that this is a new age in Finnish foreign policy and perhaps I could throw my hat into the ring once again,” Stubb said.

In Finland, the president has a strong say in foreign policy.

At another campaign meeting devoted to foreign policy, Stubb said it is all about values.

“The era of idealistic foreign policy is over, and now we are moving towards value-based realism,” he said as reported by newspaper Verkkouutiset.

Alexander Stubb has held several positions in the Government, including Foreign Minister from 2008 to 2011 and the country’s Prime Minister from 2014 to 2015.

In 2008, he visited Murmansk for the Barents Euro-Arctic Council together with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting took place a few months after Russia’s failed war in Georgia, an invasion strongly criticized by Stubb.

The presidential candidate, though, doesn’t fear any military attack on Finland by Russia.

“Finland is in one of the safest positions that it has been in throughout its history,” he said in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

“What we are doing is setting up deterrence, and I think we’ve succeeded in that very well.”

Results from voting are expected late Sunday evening, but will officially be announced on January 30.

Alexander Stubb will most likely meet the second frontrunner Pekka Haavisto in the second round on February 11. Ex-Foreign Minister Haavisto of the Green Party is running as an independent candidate.

Pekka Haavisto was Finland’s Foreign Minister from 2019 to 2023, a period which saw Russia leaving international cooperation in the North. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Located in Kirkenes, Norway, just a few kilometres from the borders to Russia and Finland, the Barents Observer is dedicated to cross-border journalism in Scandinavia, Russia and the wider Arctic.

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