Nordic social democracies often find themselves thrust into the spotlight when welfare reports are unveiled – they are recognized as the happiest nations, boasting the safest cities and leading in anti-corruption and collective governance indices.

While lauded for its societal achievements, the Nordic model is often disregarded by the more culturally flamboyant liberal democracies of Western Europe, who dismiss it as an unreachable utopian fantasy. However, collaborative efforts, shared experiences, and a rich and resilient tapestry of democratic principles of the Nordic welfare state lay the groundwork for such a “utopia” to actually exist. 

The establishment of the Nordic welfare state was not a solitary venture but rather a collaborative undertaking among neighboring nations. The social and welfare frameworks in these countries exhibit a remarkable similarity, underscoring their shared experiences and collaborative learning. This spirit of collaboration culminated in a web of agreements covering social security, labor markets, and passport freedom by the mid-20th century.

However, it’s important to question even the things we hold in high regard. Nordic countries have not been immune to the rising tide of populism sweeping across Europe – In Finland, the current government leans notably towards the right (of course, keeping in mind that what is “right” for Finland is often more “center” for others), marking a shift from recent political trends. 

Similarly, in Sweden’s 2022 general elections, the Sweden Democrats party, known for its populist right-wing nationalist stance, secured the third-highest number of seats.

The Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo was recently slandered by the Norwegian United Europe Left Vice Chairperson Nikolaj Villumsen. He accused Mr. Orpo of undermining the “Finnish system of collective bargaining” and “what makes the Nordic welfare state strong,” in light of recent wide-scale strikes regarding newly proposed labor reforms. To this, Orpo responded (in truly Finnish fashion) with a silent nod and a slight smile. 

Following a change in government after the 2023 elections, right-wing parties gained power, advocating for drastic budget cuts to manage the national debt. The government’s policy program includes reforms to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers, restrict workers’ rights to strike, and decentralized collective bargaining. 

The current government’s agenda aligns with the long-standing interests of big business, aiming to weaken the influence of trade unions and consolidate power in the hands of employers. This marks a departure from Finland’s traditional tripartite negotiation system, reflecting efforts by right-wing governments to strip unions of their political influence.

Though it is always healthy to criticize your own country, it is undeniably easier when you’re also benefiting from a plethora of privileges simply by virtue of your citizenship.

Living in Finland is a privilege marked by a blend of comparatively pre-eminent welfare programs and comprehensive (and free) healthcare and education. I am immensely grateful to be Finnish, and I could not imagine myself living anywhere else than amongst Finland’s breathtaking landscapes and culture of collective society. I am proud to be from a country which continuously ranks at the top for the freedom of press, government accountability and minimal levels of corruption, in addition to our adorable culture of wearing sailor-looking graduation caps. 

And this is exactly why, despite encountering significant setbacks, Nordic countries are unlikely to witness a similar slide into sustained right-wing leadership and policy, unlike some other European nations. The fundamental principles of transparency in governance and accountability, if upheld, will naturally steer us towards a trajectory of more center-left politics in the future. Indeed, prior to today’s government, we were led by young women in a center-left coalition – Despite experiencing setbacks in the elections last year, polls suggest that they will dominate in the next one. Truly, we are people of humility and good losers – we learn from our mistakes. 

This perspective aligns closely with the theory of swing politics, which underscores the pivotal role of swing voters (individuals or groups not firmly aligned with any specific political party) in shaping election outcomes. What distinguishes the Nordic context is the exceptional atmosphere for swing politics, facilitated by our institutions, which foster an environment where people can express themselves with minimal levels of corruption.

In countries with multiparty systems like ours, swing voters play a crucial role in determining the balance of power. The mobilization of swing politics is particularly pronounced in the Nordic context, where the dynamics of transparent governance enable the populace to influence political outcomes based on their shifting preferences. 

Arguably, taking the example of France, the increasing perception of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) as a viable political force in the country is occurring within a context of concerning deficiencies in transparency and governance accountability. 

Simultaneously with the RN’s growing prominence, France’s transparency indices in governance remain notably low, reflecting a broader need for enhanced democratic practices and resilience. In the face of multiple crises, governments must adopt more advanced strategies to build trust in public institutions and safeguard democratic values. This includes bolstering citizen and stakeholder engagement in decision-making processes, reinforcing key competencies to manage crises effectively, and protecting against threats to democratic principles.  

France’s performance in these areas, as highlighted by its score of 0.40 in the OECD Infrastructure Governance Index (IGI) on stakeholder participation, falls below the OECD average (0.52). As France navigates evolving political dynamics, addressing these transparency and accountability challenges will be crucial to ensuring a robust and inclusive democratic system.

In essence, the Nordic experience offers a valuable lesson to our European counterparts grappling with political shifts and uncertainties. The Nordic model stands as a beacon of collaborative governance and social progress, forged through shared experiences and a commitment to democratic principles. 

While facing challenges such as the rise of right-wing politics and attempts to weaken labor rights, the Nordic countries remain resilient due to their transparent governance structures and the active engagement of swing voters. Maintaining transparency and accountability in governance will continue to uphold the democratic values that have characterized our political systems, mitigating the risk of prolonged right-wing dominance and ensuring a political landscape that reflects the diverse perspectives of our society. 

As nations like France navigate evolving political dynamics, addressing these transparency and accountability challenges will be crucial in ensuring a robust and inclusive democratic system.

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