Stubb to be next Finland PM, backs Nato membership

June 15, 2014 - 1:28:20 am

LAHTI, Finland: Finland’s EU Minister Alexander Stubb, who wants to cut taxes and take his neutral country into Nato, won the leadership of his ruling conservative party yesterday, putting him on track to become prime minister later this month.

British and US-educated Stubb, 46, a polyglot sportsman, will take over Finland’s five-party governing coalition after Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen steps down, possibly as early as next Thursday. Finland holds a general election in April 2015.

“This was a bold and surprising choice. The party has historically won elections with a centre-leaning leader, but now they have clearly picked the most right-leaning candidate,” said Mari K Niemi, a researcher at Turku University.

In the vote, Stubb beat two rivals, Jan Vapaavuori and Paula Risikko, both Stubb’s colleagues in the current government.

The change at the top of Finland’s government is not expected to lead to any immediate policy changes, but Stubb reaffirmed his support for joining Nato in the longer term.

“We have to aim at maximising Finland’s national security and being part of decision-making, and that happens best as a Nato member,” Stubb said after delegates at a congress of his National Coalition party elected him as their leader.

“It is absolutely clear that we have to have a comprehensive debate about that,” said Stubb, who has stepped up his support for Nato membership since the Ukraine crisis erupted.

Stubb declined to say whether he favoured a referendum on joining Nato. Opinion polls show only one fifth of Finland’s 5.5 million people agree with him on the issue. Finland shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, which opposes NATO expansion.

The current government’s programme states that Finland will not seek NATO membership during its term but Stubb, who argues that politicians have a responsibility to shape public opinion, says he wants that stance to change during the next parliament.