Petteri Orpo, Finland's low-key conservative set to become PM | Mint – Mint

Petteri Orpo, who was first elected to parliament in 2007 and has previously served as a finance, interior and agriculture minister, is a politician to his core
With his calm demeanor, sober suits and an insistence on budget austerity, conservative leader Petteri Orpo might not appear the most exciting prospect on Finland’s political landscape.
But the 53-year-old Orpo could well be the country’s next prime minister after his centre-right National Coalition Party beat out charismatic incumbent Sanna Marin, of the Social Democrats, in Sunday’s general election.
Orpo, who was first elected to parliament in 2007 and has previously served as a finance, interior and agriculture minister, is a politician to his core.
Raised in southwestern Finland, he became involved in student politics while studying economics at university.
It ended up taking up so much of his time that it took him 12 years to graduate with a master’s degree in political science, majoring in economics.
Throughout the election campaign, he has kept his eye firmly focused on the country’s finances — something he claimed Marin had neglected.
“The most important thing the National Coalition wants to change in Finland is that we stop increasing debt,” Orpo told AFP before the vote.
His election — and attention to budgetary rigour — could spark some concern in Brussels, with Finland already one of the “frugal” EU countries that have called on southern European countries to rein in deficits.
Considered a pragmatic leader who listens and aims to be inclusive, Orpo took over the party leadership in 2016 when he unseated former prime minister Alexander Stubb, who had suffered an election defeat the previous year.
Keeping options open
Following in his own father’s footsteps into the conservative party, the well-liked Orpo has been described as amiable and calm — so much so that some have questioned how the married father of two teens has lasted so long in the fiery world of politics.
While that calm usually plays in his favour in heated election debates, Orpo can get put on the back foot by more aggressive public speakers like Marin.
In October, he was accused of belittling women and had to apologise after referring to Marin and Finance Minister Annika Saarikko’s “shrieking” in a debate.
Orpo also made headlines in December when he criticised Centre Party Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen’s decision to take paternity leave amid Finland’s NATO bid, a comment that was interpreted as enforcing negative stereotypes about fathers.
The National Coalition has attacked Marin’s government for what it deems an irresponsible rise in public debt.
Finland’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 64 percent in 2019 to 73 percent under Marin’s leadership.
The National Coalition aims to address this by cutting spending by six billion euros ($6.5 billion), which Finland’s outgoing prime minister has slammed as “taking from the poor to give to the rich”.
“I want to fix our economy. I want to boost economic growth,” Orpo told AFP on Saturday, adding that Marin “is not worried about the economy. She is not worried about debt”.
While Orpo in 2017 ruled out a government partnership with the far-right Finns Party, in this election campaign he has said he will keep his options open, despite clashing with the party on immigration, the EU and climate policy.
“In my opinion, Finland cannot survive without more labour immigration. I want to keep Finland an open, international country,” he told AFP.
But “at the same time as we are increasing labour immigration, we have to maintain a strict asylum policy and keep immigration under control overall,” he added.
Orpo is a fan of hiking, the outdoors and fishing, and is known to have taken snowmobile trips with his party colleague President Sauli Niinisto in Lapland.
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