Sanna Marin, Finland’s international star and Northern Light, dims, just a little

Finland's prime minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Rami Kurth, FinnishGovernment - CC BY 2.0

It wasn’t just Finland’s size that made it so much the focus of the weekend’s three European elections. Montenegro and Bulgaria were less close-run. Some would say they weren’t as consequential either.

Finland, after all, is set to become Nato’s 31st member, meaning that it takes the defence alliance literally on to Russia’s border. But the biggest change in Finnish foreign policy in decades has not been the biggest talking point ahead of the elections.

Instead, it’s about something more low key – the state of public finances.

More to the point is the somewhat short and tempestuous love affair Finns appear to have had with their prime minister, Sanna Marin. When she got the job six months after the 2019 election because Antti Rinne resigned over a labour dispute, Ms Marin became one of the world’s youngest prime ministers. She had won the internal party election by just three votes and despite her political inexperience – just four years as an MP and three years before that as a city councillor – made a good fist of dealing with the pandemic.

As a millennial woman, Ms Marin became an international symbol of empowerment, a political star that twinkled bright and gentle, a true Northern Light.

But at home, she started to rack up unpleasant headlines for spending and borrowing without due care, in a slightly more prudent Finnish version of Liz Truss, Britain’s shortest serving prime minister. She became a divisive figure at home with her Truss-like preoccupation with growth and attempts to blame the rise in Finland’s government debt on the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

With Finns starting to look askance at the public finances, debt became the top election issue, putting the three main contenders – Ms Marin’s Social Democratic Party; Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party and the right-wing Finns Party –  neck and neck.

As Politico put it to the world, ahead of the election “Finns don’t love Sanna Marin as much as you do”.