For a useful corrective to the notion that only sunny optimism can win elections, Charlemagne recommends a visit to Finland. Like sauna-goers vigorously lashing themselves with birch branches, Finnish politicians are lining up to talk their homeland down in the run-up to the general election on April 19th. Juha Sipila, leader of the Centre Party and the most likely next prime minister, talks freely of the need to slash public spending. Antti Rinne, the finance minister and head of the Social Democrats, laments Finland’s dire export performance. The biggest dose of gloom, though, comes from Alex Stubb, the centre-right prime minister. Mr Stubb claims to be an “eternal optimist”, but says that Finland has had a “lost decade” and admits that the coalition he has led since June 2014 has often been a failure.
In fairness, Finns have reasons to feel doleful. When people speak of Europe’s troubled “periphery” they usually mean the Mediterranean rim. But Finland may stake an equal claim. It has spent three years in recession. Output and employment are far below pre-crisis levels. And this year only Italy and Cyprus in the euro zone will grow more slowly, according to the IMF’s latest forecasts. Finland has breached the euro-zone deficit limit of 3% of GDP, and will breach the 60% debt limit this year, too. Its economy has been triply whammed: by the collapse of Nokia, a telecoms giant that failed to ride the smartphone wave (and now wants to take over France’s Alcatel, see article); by the worldwide decline of the paper industry; and by troubles with Russia, with which Finland shares a border over 800 miles (1,300km) long. “Blame Steve Jobs and Vladimir Putin,” an official sniffs. Yet Mr Stubb looks a likelier target for voters’ ire.
Full Article: Charlemagne: Turning Finnish | The Economist.