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Finland gets first left-of-centre prime minister in 20 years

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Finland gets first left-of-centre prime minister in 20 years 2



Finland gets first left-of-centre prime minister in 20 years 3

Finland has got its first new left-of-centre prime minister in 20 years after the country’s social democrats successfully formed a new government on Thursday.

Antti Rinne, 56, takes office at the head of a broad coalition that also includes the Centre Party, Greens, Left alliance, and minority interest Swedish People’s Party.

His governing programme includes promises of tax rises and higher spending to bolster the Finnish welfare state.


Spending is agreed to rise by 4 billion euros, with the priorities including education, social security, and infrastructure investment.

Together the five parties in the left-of-centre governing coalition have a comfortable 117 majority in the country’s 200 seats parliament

The last social democratic prime minister in the Nordic country was Paavo Lipponen, who last won an election in 1999 – two decades ago. He left office in 2003.

Since then, the office of prime minister has been handed back and forth between two liberals and conservative parties: the Centre Party and the National Coalition.

The new government is dominated by the social democrats, who have seven ministers, while the centre party have five. The Green have three, leftists two, and the Swedish-speakers’ party two.

The Centre Party’s Mika Lintila and Katri Kulmuni will take the finance and economy minister portfolios, while the Greens’ Pekka Haavisto will represent the country on the world state as foreign minister.

The Greens also get the environment ministry, while leader of the Left Alliance Li Andersson becomes minister for education. The leftists also control the health and social affairs ministry.

The new government is one of the most gender equal in Europe, with 58 per cent of the ministers being women. It however falls short of the 2007-2010 Finnish government where 60 per cent of ministers were women.

At the last election in April the Social Democrats came top, but with just 17.5 per cent of the vote amid a splintering of parties. They narrowly beat the right-wing populist Finns Party and centre-right National Coalition into second and third place respectively. 



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Merkel’s government facing collapse as her coalition partner resigns over election disaster

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Merkel's government facing collapse as her coalition partner resigns over election disaster 5



Merkel's government facing collapse as her coalition partner resigns over election disaster 6

Angela Merkel‘s government is facing another crisis and possible collapse after the leader of her main coalition partner resigned.

Andrea Nahles quit as chief of the centre-left social democrats (SPD) after a series of terrible election results which saw her party eclipsed by the Greens.

“The discussions within the parliamentary faction and feedback from within the party have shown me that I no longer have the necessary support to carry out my duties,” the outgoing leader said.


Ms Merkel’s conservative CDU group is in coalition with the SPD in a so-called “grand coalition” or “GroKo” – an agreement between the two largest parties to form a government together.

Ms Nahles’ departure potentially opens the door for an anti-coalition party leader – with anyone standing as a replacement likely to come under pressure from the party’s grassroots to quit government.

The SPD has been consistently sliding in the polls since it joined the GroKo in 2013, with the party renewing the pact in 2017 despite losses at federal elections, including to the far-right AfD.

In March last year 66 per cent of the SPD leadership voted in favour of a grand coalition, but since then the party has continued to be punished at the ballot box for its participation in the pact. 

Crucially, the party has started shedding votes to the Greens, who beat it into third place in the European Elections and are now polling first place above all the other parties in some surveys.

The SPD won an all-time low of just 16 per cent last week, with polls released over this weekend showing them course to get just 12 per cent, its worst ever showing in a survey.

Prominent dissenting voices within the social democrats such as Kevin Kühnert, leader of the SPD’s youth wing, have called for the party to ditch the establishment alliance and renew itself outside of government.

Andrea Nahles failed to reverse the slide in the party’s fortunes (AFP)

If the SPD does pull out of the government, Ms Merkel could try to secure the support of the Greens and liberal FDP – though previous attempts to form a government with those parties failed in 2017, leading to the present arrangement.

The Greens’ surge in the polls also make it unlikely that they would want to avoid new elections, given the potential gains they could make at the ballot box.

 

The CDU could also try to govern as a minority to avoid new elections. Ms Merkel has said she would not stand at the next German federal elections, and that she would instead hand over the reins to a new chancellor. She has also quit her party leadership, which is now occupied by her protege, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – widely referred to as AKK.

“I assume the SPD will undergo a succession in short order without hindrance to the functioning of the grand coalition,” Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer.

“In the CDU we believe that this is not the time to play politics. We want to serve our country with good governing policies.”



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Macron and Merkel row over who should replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU president

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Macron and Merkel row over who should replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU president 8



Macron and Merkel row over who should replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU president 9

The EU faces a Franco-German row over who should replace Jean-Claude Juncker as differences over who should lead the EU emerged in public at a summit in Brussels on Tuesday night.

Leaders gathered in the EU capital 48 hours after the European elections to make headway on choosing the next Commission president, but in the end made little progress.

Angela Merkel told reporters on arrival that she supported Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate of her centre-right political alliance, which topped the European Parliament vote.


Under the spitzenkandiat system used to select Mr Juncker the last time around, Mr Weber would become president – but other member states have reservations about the social conservative, who has no experience in government.

Emmanuel Macron, along with the liberal group in the European parliament, have opposed the spitzenkandiat system – which is not officially written into EU treaties and has only been used once, in 2014.

“Today I do not want names to be talked about, names to be attacked; I think we have to take into account what came out of the polls, what the European people have expressed and we must also have decision-makers who have the credibility to be able to act,” Mr Macron told reporters.

Other potential candidates include Frans Timmermans, the candidate for the centre-left, Margrethe Vestager, the liberal candidate politician, and Michel Barnier – the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

On his way into the summit Mr Macron suggested all three of these people had the “skills” to be president – conspicuously not naming Mr Weber. 

“Like Mr Barnier, as Mr Timmermans, people who have precisely these skills but I do not want today to have a debate on the names, I want to have a debate about the project, priorities and criteria,” he said, when asked about Ms Vestager’s qualfications.

After a leaders’ meeting over dinner, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, downplayed the importance of the spitzenkandidat system.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s term is coming to a close at the end of October (EbS)

“I think that it was clear from the very beginning… that the treaty obligation is more important that political ideas and inventions, and this is why we repeated our position which was declared during our European Council in February last year – there’s no automaticity [in the lead candidate becoming president] and it’s not a problem at all for our partners in the European parliament to accept this fact,” he said.

Apparently damning Mr Weber’s chances with faint praise, Mr Tusk simply said it was “not a disqualification to be a spitzenkandidat”.

Trying to defuse the situation, Mr Tusk added: “We did not discuss names tonight, just the process. So please don’t ask me about names.” He said that “No one is interested in inter-institutional conflict” between the Council and Parliament.

Earlier in the day the parliament’s president Antionio Tajani, also from Mr Weber’s centre-right EPP group, said the “majority” of groups in the parliament supported the spitzenkandidat system. 

However, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the enlarged liberal group in which Mr Macron’s new MEPs will sit, said the EPP had “killed the legitimacy” of the spitzenkandidat system, branding it “simply not serious”.

Under EU treaties, the Commission president must be proposed by EU28 leaders on the European Council by a qualified majority vote, and then approved by the European Parliament with a majority vote. In practice both institutions will have to reach agreement.

Theresa May was present at the summit, despite the UK’s impending departure from the EU. A UK government spokesperson said: “As agreed at the council meeting in April, as long as the UK remains in the EU, we will continue to be a full member state with all the rights and obligations that entails.

“We recognise the UK’s status as a departing member state and will continue to be as constructive a partner as possible and abide by the principle of sincere cooperation – and this issue is no exception.”



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