Presidential candidate Alexander Stubb (NCP) showcases a souvenir during the Helsinki Sanomat and Nelonen presidential debate at Suvilahti Kattilahalli in Helsinki on January 23, 2024. Candidates were asked to bring a souvenir to the debate / Lehtikuva

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In the recent runoff election, Alexander Stubb, a center-right politician, was elected president of Finland, marking the country's first presidential election since its accession to NATO. Alexander Stubb of the National Coalition Party faced off against Pekka Haavisto of the Green League, in the second round, where Stubb emerged victorious, securing 51.6% of the votes compared to Haavisto's 48.4%. 

This election is especially significant due to Finland's strategic position, sharing an extensive 830-mile border with Russia, amidst a period of heightened geopolitical tensions and shifting alliances. The role of the Finnish president, far from being merely ceremonial, encompasses significant responsibilities in foreign policy, positioning the newly elected president at the helm of navigating Finland's course within NATO and through the complexities of contemporary global politics. 

This election has attracted considerable attention from European and American allies, given the ongoing challenges posed by Moscow and Beijing against U.S. power, the continuing conflict in Ukraine, and uncertainties surrounding the American commitment to its aid, all set against the backdrop of an impending unpredictable U.S. presidential election. The election unfolded against a backdrop of global uncertainty. Just a short while since Finland rushed to join NATO, Donald Trump who may soon return to the White House undermined USA’s commitment to protect NATO countries ”if they don’t pay their bills.” 

Educated in South Carolina, Stubb campaigned heavily on enhancing trans-Atlantic ties and consistently highlighted his stringent views, reflecting his commitment to strengthening Finland's position on the global stage.

Cai-Göran Alexander Stubb, born in April 1968 is a Swedish speaking Finn who rose to politics from a researcher who was often quoted and published in Helsingin Sanomat. He has held several key public office posts in Finland and the European Union. In Finland, he served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, Minister of European Affairs and Foreign Trade from 2011 to 2014, and Prime Minister from 2014 to 2015. Additionally, Stubb was the Minister of Finance from 2015 to 2016. Within the European Union, before his national political career, he was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 2004 to 2008, where he worked on issues related to the internal market, legal affairs, and civil liberties.

Stubb is not new to foreign policy and world affairs. Throughout his tenure in various government positions, Alexander Stubb has engaged in international diplomacy, visiting numerous countries and meeting with world leaders and foreign ministers. As Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, Stubb was involved in significant diplomatic activities, including inviting the head of Al-Jazeera and former President Martti Ahtisaari to discuss the role of media in conflict resolution in July 2010. In October 2010, he visited the Middle East and discussed the Middle Eastern conflict with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During his time as Minister for European Affairs and Trade from 2011 to 2014, and then as Prime Minister from 2014 to 2015, Stubb's role necessitated frequent international interactions. His tenure as Minister of Finance from 2015 to 2016 also included international engagements, particularly related to EU economic matters and the Eurozone.

Before his national political career, as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 2004 to 2008, Stubb was involved in EU affairs that included interactions with representatives from various countries.

During numerous panel discussions and debates in the first and second round of the presidential election campaign, Stubb has emphasised the importance of Nordic cooperation, the European Union, relations with China and Russia, and Finland's role on the global stage. 

 

Globalisation and immigration

Alexander Stubb has articulated a perspective on globalization that distinguishes between "globalists" and "localists," reflecting a shift in political fault lines from the traditional left-right spectrum to a new dichotomy defined by attitudes towards globalization. In his comments, Stubb highlighted that "globalists" see an integrating world as an opportunity, whereas "localists" seek to protect themselves from globalization by turning inward. 

In a discussion about the changing political landscape influenced by globalization back in 2014 in Copenhagen, then Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, expressed concern over the lack of labor mobility across Europe, stating, "I am worried that the workforce does not move." He pointed out the stark difference in cross-border labor mobility between Europe, at 0.29%, and the United States, at 2.40%. Stubb argued that aging industrial nations, including Finland, are in dire need of a workforce that immigrants can provide. He criticised attacks against immigration as baseless, citing an OECD study: "The majority of immigrants pay more in taxes and social security contributions to their host country than they receive in corresponding benefits." This perspective underscores Stubb's belief in the opportunities a globally integrated world offers and the need for open borders to foster economic growth.

 

Nordic Cooperation: A cornerstone of stability

Stubb's presidency is anticipated to strengthen Finland's relations with its Nordic neighbors through enhanced cooperation in security, environmental policies, and digital innovation. His previous statements underline the importance of Nordic solidarity: "Our Nordic cooperation has always been a cornerstone of our policy. It's about combining our strengths to address common challenges."

Being a native Swedish speaker, Stubb has always championed the strength of Nordic cooperation, reflecting on his deep-seated belief in the shared values and mutual trust that bind these nations together. "The Nordic model is one of open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared prosperity. It is a testament to the power of cooperation and the benefits it brings to our people," Stubb has remarked, highlighting the functional and supportive nature of this partnership. He sees Nordic cooperation as a model of regional collaboration that provides a solid foundation for addressing broader international challenges.

 

Strengthening ties with the European Union

Having started his carrier as a researcher and then an MEP, Stubb's stance regarding the European Union, is clear: He views the EU as essential for Europe's stability and prosperity, advocating for deeper integration and unity. "The EU is more than a peace project; it's a powerful platform for member states to amplify their voice and protect their interests on a global stage," Stubb has articulated, emphasising the need for a united European response to contemporary challenges.

In his vision for Finland's future, Stubb underscores the critical role of the European Union in ensuring stability, prosperity, and security. "A strong and united EU is our best tool for tackling the challenges of today and tomorrow. Finland must be at the forefront of shaping EU policies that reflect our common values and interests," Stubb asserted in a presidential election debate. His commitment to EU integration is evident in his call for collective action in addressing common challenges, such as security, climate change, and economic development.

 

NATO and the United States

Alexander Stubb has expressed strong support for Finland's NATO membership since the beginning of his political carrier, highlighting the importance of the alliance for Finland's security and the broader region. In interviews with DW and Insider, Stubb articulated his long-standing advocacy for Finland's NATO membership, which he believes has been bolstered by Russia's actions in Ukraine. He described Finland as a "security asset" for NATO, citing its large military and strategic location. Stubb also addressed potential Russian responses to Finland's NATO membership, dismissing threats of nuclear deployment in the Baltic as "fake news" and emphasising Finland's preparedness for cyber and information warfare. His statements reflect a belief in the mutual benefits of Finland joining NATO for both the country and the alliance, while also underlining the changed security landscape due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Alexander Stubb has demonstrated a strong inclination toward enhancing Finland's military engagement within NATO, surpassing Pekka Haavisto's approach. He has suggested the idea of Finland permanently hosting a select group of NATO officers and expressed his support for the potential transit of NATO's nuclear weapons through Finnish territory, although he acknowledges that this remains speculative due to existing Finnish laws that ban nuclear arms on its soil, a situation he, as president, has no direct power to change. The National Coalition Party, to which Stubb belongs, now almost exclusively dominates Finland's foreign policy decision-making, holding not just the presidency, but also the positions of prime minister, foreign minister, and defence minister, thereby consolidating its influence over the country's international stance.

 

Pragmatic engagement with China

During his tenure as Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, Stubb led a Team Finland trip to China with the aim of promoting exports and internationalisation of Finnish companies.

During his visit to China, Alexander Stubb engaged with Chinese leaders and officials, focusing on strengthening Finnish-Chinese relations and exploring opportunities for economic, educational, and technological cooperation between the two countries. Stubb's discussions likely covered topics ranging from trade and investment to innovation and sustainability, reflecting Finland's interest in fostering a dynamic and mutually beneficial partnership with China. By meeting with Chinese counterparts, Stubb aimed to promote dialogue, enhance bilateral ties, and support initiatives that could lead to greater collaboration in various sectors, benefiting both Finland and China in the long term​ Recognizing China's growing influence in global affairs, Stubb emphasizes the need for a pragmatic and strategic approach to Finland's relationship with China. "We must engage with China in a way that balances economic opportunities with the recognition of the challenges posed by its rise. It's about finding common ground while standing firm on our principles," Stubb explained, advocating for a balanced approach that aligns with broader European perspectives.

In the final presidential debate on Yle on the 8th of Feb., Pekka Haavisto from the Green League challenged Alexander Stubb, the National Coalition Party candidate, over his past remarks on China, notably Stubb's 2017 column bidding farewell to the United States in favor of welcoming China. Haavisto labeled the column "very optimistic" for its view of China advancing a market economy model and even openness. "We should not be too naive regarding China, what do you think?" Haavisto questioned Stubb. Stubb, referencing his own warnings against naivety in a Financial Times article in 2016, highlighted the West's dangerous dependency on Chinese technology, mirroring Africa's raw material dependency on China. Stubb advocated for Finland to be a reliable partner to the West and a strategic competitor to China, urging vigilance akin to being "China hawks." The discussion also touched on the need for cooperation with China on global challenges like climate change and technological transformation, despite the country's surveillance system intensified during the pandemic. Stubb speculated on a possible Russian-Chinese collaboration concerning the Balticconnector pipeline incident, emphasizing constant vigilance with China.

Last October, In response to criticism on his statements about China, Alexander Stubb, the National Coalition Party's presidential candidate, has clarified his stance in an Iltalehti interview, emphasizing a nuanced approach to EU-China policy. 

Theresa Fallon, founder and director of the Brussels-based "The Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies" (CREAS), had expressed surprise at Stubb's assertion that China is not an imperialist state. Fallon also questioned Stubb's view that the interests of Russia and China are not closely aligned.

The discussions referred to Stubb's interview about China at the European Ideas Forum event.

Stubb distinguishes China from Russia, noting that unlike Russia's imperialistic and aggressive nature, China has been patient, strategic, and wise in building international relations. He points out China's significant role as a major financier to about 120 countries and its efforts in constructing major infrastructure projects worldwide, contrasting it with Russia's energy-dependent economic narrative. 

"I said that China is not imperialist in the same way as Russia," Stubb responds to the criticism in an interview with Iltalehti. "Russia is imperialist, aggressive, and revisionist. China has fought a few wars, and they haven't gone well. I call for not lumping China and Russia together. I also said that in the interview.”

However, Stubb does not deny China's imperialistic ambitions but argues they differ from Russia's. Highlighting the economic and technological interdependence between China and the US, Stubb argues for a cautious yet open relationship with China, stressing the importance of not severing ties but reducing dependency risks. He believes in differentiating between European energy dependency and Chinese technology dependency, advocating for caution without resorting to total protectionism. 

Stubb suggests that cooperation with China is essential for addressing global challenges like population and climate change, advocating for a balanced approach in evaluating Chinese investments in Finland. He asserts that Europe's relationship with China should not be dictated by the US, echoing French President Emmanuel Macron's sentiment on the need for independent European positions on certain issues. "European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that we're not cutting off relations with China, but we're reducing risk. That should be our philosophy towards China."

Stubb emphasised the need to be aware that China and Chinese state-owned companies are strategically building technology dependency relationships with European companies.

"But we shouldn't overreact, meaning we shouldn't shift to total protectionism."

Stubb stressed that every Chinese investment in Finland must be closely scrutinised.

"There's certainly a lot of good in them, but we need to understand the backgrounds of those investments.”

 

A Realistic approach to Russia

Stubb's views on Russia are marked by realism and pragmatism. "The relationship with Russia is complex, but we must not shy away from defending our sovereignty while seeking dialogue where possible," Stubb noted, acknowledging the challenges in Finland's relationship with its eastern neighbour. He supports a policy that combines strong defence and deterrence with the readiness to engage in constructive dialogue, aiming to protect Finland's interests without escalating tensions unnecessarily.

Upon his election night, the incoming president Alexander Stubb faced immediate scrutiny from the international media. Although the initial question wasn't broadcasted by Yle in their election coverage, Helsingin Sanomat reported that Stubb was first asked about Donald Trump's comments on NATO and the possibility of resuming diplomatic talks with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Addressing the question on Putin, Stubb emphasised, “It is quite self-evident that maintaining any political relations with Putin is difficult as long as Russia wages an aggressive war against Ukraine.” He added, “Of course, we all want to see a path to peace, but it appears that, at the moment, that path leads through the battlefield.”

 

Finland's role on the global stage

As president, Stubb envisions Finland as an active and responsible player in international affairs. "Finland's voice matters on the global stage. We are committed to upholding international law, promoting human rights, and contributing to global peace," Stubb has stated, emphasising Finland's role in advocating for solutions to global challenges such as climate change, conflict resolution, and sustainable development.

Alexander Stubb's election as President of Finland is a new era in Finnish foreign policy while continuing Niinistö’s legacy on most issues. With a focus on strengthening Nordic cooperation, reinforcing Finland's commitment to the European Union, pragmatically engaging with China, maintaining a realistic stance towards Russia, and asserting Finland's role on the global stage, Stubb aims to navigate Finland through the complexities of contemporary global politics primarily using the same compass as his predecessor.

 

HT

 

 

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