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The EU and the Welfare State are Compatible: Finnish Social Democrats and European Integration

  • Tapio Raunio


This article examines how the Finnish Social Democratic Party has adapted to European integration. The analysis illustrates that the Social Democrats have successfully argued to their electorate that the objectives of integration are compatible with core social democratic values. Considering that Finland was hit by a severe recession in the early 1990s, discourse about economic integration and monetary stability facilitating the economic growth that is essential for job creation and the survival of domestic welfare state policies sounded appealing to SDP voters. Determined party leadership, support from trade unions and the lack of a credible threat from the other leftist parties have also contributed to the relatively smooth adaptation to Europe. However, recent internal debates about the direction of party ideology and poor electoral performances – notably in the European Parliament elections – indicate that not all sections within the party are in favour of the current ideological choices.



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1 Raunio, Tapio, ‘Softening but Persistent: Euroscepticism in the Nordic EU Countries’, Acta Politica, 42: 2–3 (2007), pp. 191210 .

2 Raunio, Tapio and Tiilikainen, Teija, Finland in the European Union, London, Frank Cass, 2003 .

3 Johansson, Karl Magnus, ‘Tracing the Employment Title in the Amsterdam Treaty: Uncovering Transnational Coalitions’, Journal of European Public Policy, 6: 1 (1999), pp. 85101 ; Robert Ladrech, Social Democracy and the Challenge of European Union, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 2000; and Simon Lightfoot, Europeanizing Social Democracy? The Rise of the Party of European Socialists, Abingdon, Routledge, 2005.

4 Hooghe, Liesbet, Marks, Gary and Wilson, Carole, ‘Does Left/Right Structure Party Positions on European Integration?’, Comparative Political Studies, 35: 8 (2002), pp. 965–89; Marks, Gary, Hooghe, Liesbet, Nelson, Moira and Edwards, Erica, ‘Party Competition and European Integration in East and West: Different Structure, Same Causality’, Comparative Political Studies, 39: 2 (2006), pp. 155–75.

5 Marks, Gary and Wilson, Carole J., ‘The Past in the Present: A Cleavage Theory of Party Positions on European Integration’, British Journal of Political Science, 30: 3 (2000), p. 443 .

6 See for example Aylott, Nicholas, Swedish Social Democracy and European Integration: The People's Home on the Market, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999 .

7 The interviews were carried out between 1995 and 2008, with the respondents including MPs, MEPs and officials from both the party central office and the parliamentary group. I am indebted to the people in the SDP central office for access to internal party documents and background memos. I am also grateful to Heikki Paloheimo and Tero Shemeikka, the international secretary of the SDP, for their constructive comments.

8 For a concise overview of the party see Jan Sundberg, ‘The Finnish Social Democratic Party’, in Robert Ladrech and Philippe Marlière (eds), Social Democratic Parties in the European Union: History, Organization, Policies, Houndmills, Macmillan, 1999, pp. 56–63. Of the publications in Finnish, see Rauli Mickelsson, Samanlaiset ja erilaiset puolueet – retoriikka- ja diskurssianalyyttinen tutkimus kokoomuslaisten ja sosiaalidemokraattien jäsenlehdissä ilmaisemista käsityksistään omista puolueistaan vuosina 1965–1995, Turku, Turun yliopiston julkaisuja C:153, 1999; Mickelsson, Rauli, ‘Sosialidemokraattien kertomukset. SDP:n periaateohjelmakeskustelu 1995–1999 kertomusanalyysin valossa’, Politiikka, 44: 1 (2002), pp. 3147 ; and Jukka Paastela, ‘Sosialistinen aatetraditio Suomessa’, in Jukka Paastela and Heikki Paloheimo (eds), Suomen puolueiden periaateohjelmat, Tampere, Tampereen yliopisto, Politiikan tutkimuksen laitos, 2006, pp. 76–102.

9 Mattila, Mikko and Raunio, Tapio, ‘Does Winning Pay? Electoral Success and Government Formation in 15 West European Countries’, European Journal of Political Research, 43: 2 (2004), p. 269 .

10 Reflecting the fragmentation of the party system and the tradition of forming majority governments, the mean number of cabinet parties between 1945 and 2000 was 3.5, also the highest figure among ‘Western’ European countries. Mattila and Raunio, ‘Does Winning Pay?’, p. 269.

11 Jaakko Nousiainen, ‘Finland: The Consolidation of Parliamentary Governance’, in Wolfgang C. Müller and Kaare Strøm (eds), Coalition Governments in Western Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 264–99.

12 Sundberg, Jan, ‘The Enduring Scandinavian Party System’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 22: 2 (1999), pp. 221–41; Jan Sundberg, ‘The Scandinavian Party Model at the Crossroads’, in Paul Webb, David Farrell and Ian Holliday (eds), Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Societies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 181–216; David Arter, Scandinavian Politics Today, 2nd edn, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2008, pp. 51–147; Arter, David, ‘From a Contingent Party System to Party System Convergence? Mapping Party System Change in Postwar Finland’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 32: 2 (2009), pp. 221–39.

13 Heikki Paloheimo and Jan Sundberg, ‘Puoluevalinnan perusteet’, in Heikki Paloheimo (ed.), Vaalit ja demokratia Suomessa, Helsinki, WSOY, 2005, pp. 169–201.

14 Heikki Paloheimo, ‘Ideologiat ja ristiriitaulottuvuudet’, in Heikki Paloheimo and Tapio Raunio (eds), Suomen puolueet ja puoluejärjestelmä, Helsinki, WSOY, 2008, pp. 27–59.

15 Kim O. Zilliacus, K., ‘“New Politics” in Finland: The Greens and the Left Wing in the 1990’, West European Politics, 24: 1 (2001), pp. 2754 ; Paastela, Jukka, ‘Finland’, Environmental Politics, 11: 1 (2002), pp. 1738 .

16 Rauli Mickelsson, Suomen puolueet: Historia, muutos ja nykypäivä, Tampere, Vastapaino, 2007, pp. 265–67.

17 ‘The Principles of Social Democracy’, adopted by the 38th Party Congress in Turku, 1999, available at

18 Ulpu Iivari, Kansanvallan puolustajat: sosialidemokraattinen eduskuntaryhmä 100 vuotta, Keuruu, Otava, 2007.

19 Mickelsson, ‘Sosialidemokraattien kertomukset’; Mickelsson, Suomen puolueet, pp. 298–301.

20 The demise of the Soviet Union was just one of the factors behind the recession, with both external circumstances and bad domestic choices resulting in the deep depression. See Honkapohja, Seppo and Koskela, Erkki, ‘The Economic Crisis of the 1990s in Finland’, Economic Policy, 14: 29 (1999), pp. 399436 .

21 According to official statistics produced by the Ministry of Finance, unemployment reached its peak in 1994 when 16.7 per cent of the workforce were without a job, but some sources reported higher unemployment rates. In 1990 only 3.2 per cent were unemployed.

22 Marko Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999: Comparing Finnish Parties, Acta Politica 38, Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki, 2009, p. 68; Iivari, Kansanvallan puolustajat, p. 243.

23 See Aylott, Swedish Social Democracy and European Integration; Nicholas Aylott, ‘Softer but Strong: Euroscepticism and Party Politics in Sweden’, in Paul Taggart and Aleks Szczerbiak (eds), Opposing Europe? The Comparative Party Politics of Euroscepticism, Volume 1: Case Studies and Country Surveys, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 181–200.

24 Aylott, Nicholas, ‘Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten: The Swedish Referendum on EMU of September 2003’, Government and Opposition, 40: 4 (2005), pp. 540–64; Widfeldt, Anders, ‘Elite Collusion and Public Defiance: Sweden's Euro Referendum in 2003’, West European Politics, 27: 3 (2004), pp. 503–17.

25 Risto Sänkiaho, ‘Puoluesidonnaisuutta vai sitoutumattomuutta’, in Pertti Pesonen (ed.), Suomen EU-kansanäänestys 1994: Raportti äänestäjien kannanotoista, Helsinki, Ulkoasiainministeriö, Eurooppatiedotus ja Painatuskeskus, 1994, pp. 167–8.

26 The SDP council decided in September 1997 in favour of Finland's participation in the third stage of EMU from the start of 1999. However, in 1993 the SDP executive committee and party congress had already stated that EMU was a desirable goal from a Finnish perspective. See Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999.

27 On his thinking that emphasized the virtues of the Nordic welfare state model, see for example Erkki Tuomioja, ‘Address at the French Institute for International Affairs’, Paris, 15 November 2000. See also the speeches and writings available at his website,

28 Paavo Lipponen, Kohti Eurooppaa, Helsinki, Tammi, 2001.

29 Paavo Lipponen, speech given at the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium, 10 November 2000, available at

30 Interviewed about the formulation of his party's EMU stand, Lipponen openly admitted that public opinion did not influence the position of the SDP. According to Lipponen it was more important to lead the discussion instead of following the development of public opinion. Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999, p. 115.

31 Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999, pp. 215–16.

32 Based on the following programmes: Kannanotto Eurooppa-politiikasta, SDP:n puoluekokous, 6.-9.6.1996; Näkökulmia Euroopan unionin jäsenyydestä ja unionin kehittämisestä, SDP:n puoluekokous, 6.-9.6.1996; Työllisyyttä, hyvinvointia, turvallisuutta – sosialidemokraattinen Eurooppa, SDP:n EU-vaalijulistus, puoluehallitus, 22.8.1996; Vakauden kautta kasvua, työllisyyttä ja hyvinvointia – Suomi mukaan Euroopan talous- ja rahaliiton kolmanteen vaiheeseen, SDP:n puoluevaltuuston kannanotto, 24.9.1997; Ihmisten Eurooppa – yhdessä turvallisesti, SDP:n EU-vaalijulistus, 1999; Kannanotto Eurooppa-politiikasta, SDP:n puoluekokous, 26.-30.5.1999; Kohti vahvaa ja demokraattista Euroopan unionia, SDP:n puoluehallituksen kannanotto, 28.8.2003; Ihmisten Eurooppaan, SDP:n puoluevaltuusto, 13.-14.3.2004; SDP:n eurokymppi, toukokuu 2004; Tavoitteena vahva Eurooppa: Sosialidemokraattien visio-ohjelma Euroopan tulevaisuudesta, SDP:n puoluekokous, 11.6.2005; Reilu Suomi – työtä ja välittämistä, vaaliohjelma, SDP:n puoluevaltuusto, 10.-11.11.2006; Me pidämme ääntä puolestasi: SDP:n tavoitteet vaalikaudelle 2007–2011, vaaliohjelma, 3.2.2007; Euroopan parlamentin vaalien vaaliohjelma 2009, SDP:n puoluevaltuusto, 4.2.2009.

33 This cooperation takes place in the social democratic group of the Nordic Council and in SAMAK, a forum for the social democratic parties and the trade union movements in the Nordic countries.

34 Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999.

35 Paloheimo, Heikki, ‘Vaaliohjelmat ja ehdokkaiden mielipiteet’, in Pesonen, Pertti (ed.), Suomen europarlamenttivaalit, Tampere, Tampere University Press, 2000, pp. 5081 .

36 Jan Sundberg, Parties as Organized Actors: The Transformation of the Scandinavian Three-Front Parties, Helsinki, Society of Sciences and Letters, 2003; Jan Sundberg, ‘Puolueiden organisaatiot ja suhteet etujärjestöihin’, in Paloheimo and Raunio, Suomen puolueet ja puoluejärjestelmä, pp. 61–83; and Allern, Elin Haugsgjerd, Aylott, Nicholas and Christiansen, Flemming Juul, ‘Social Democrats and Trade Unions in Scandinavia: The Decline and Persistence of Institutional Relationships’, European Journal of Political Research, 46: 5 (2007), pp. 607–35.

37 Peter J. Boldt, ‘Palkansaajat: edunvalvonnan alueelliset haasteet’, in Tapio Raunio and Matti Wiberg (eds), EU ja Suomi: unionijäsenyyden vaikutukset suomalaiseen yhteiskuntaan, Helsinki, Edita, 2000, pp. 78–94; Karttunen, Evidence of Partisan Emphasis on EMU During 1994–1999.

38 The only consistently Eurosceptical party that has won seats in the Eduskunta since Finland joined the EU is the True Finns, a populist centre-right party established on the ruins of the Rural Party. But the True Finns have at least so far been a marginal force in Finnish politics (see Table 1) that can not influence government policy.

39 Raunio, ‘Softening but Persistent’.

40 Nousiainen, Jaakko, ‘From Semi-Presidentialism to Parliamentary Government: Political and Constitutional Developments in Finland’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 24: 1 (2001), pp. 95109 ; Raunio, Tapio, ‘The Changing Finnish Democracy: Stronger Parliamentary Accountability, Coalescing Political Parties and Weaker External Constraints’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 27: 2 (2004), pp. 133–52.

41 Raunio, Tapio, ‘Hesitant Voters, Committed Elite: Explaining the Lack of Eurosceptic Parties in Finland’, Journal of European Integration, 27: 4 (2005), pp. 381–95.

42 The lack of cohesion in the Left Alliance has also strengthened the bond between the SDP and the trade unions, for until the 1980s the SAK was having internal problems of its own, as both the Social Democrats and the Finnish People's Democratic League fought for power within the trade union movement.

43 See Aylott, ‘Softer but Strong’; Raunio, ‘Softening but Persistent’.

44 Mattila, Mikko and Raunio, Tapio, ‘Kuka edustaa EU:n vastustajia? Euroopan parlamentin vaalit 2004’, Politiikka, 47: 1 (2005), pp. 2841 .

45 For example, in the 1999 EP elections all SDP candidates agreed with the statement that EU membership had brought more benefits than costs. All candidates also saw that joining EMU had been the right decision, and 89 per cent thought that the EP should be given more powers. Paloheimo, ‘Vaaliohjelmat ja ehdokkaiden mielipiteet’, pp. 70–1.

46 When asked about the ideological direction of her party in May 2009, Urpilainen stated that ‘Instead of moving to the left or to the right, SDP will go forward.’ Anssi Miettinen, ‘Urpilainen haki Lontoossa oppia “Uudesta labourista” ’, Helsingin Sanomat, 7 May 2009. See also Pekka Vuoristo, ‘Missä luuraa Urpilaisen “uusi SDP”?’, Helsingin Sanomat, 5 April 2009.

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The EU and the Welfare State are Compatible: Finnish Social Democrats and European Integration

  • Tapio Raunio


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