Governing through strategies: How does Finland sustain a future-oriented environmental policy for the long term?

Finland has performed consistently well in international comparisons of successful, future-oriented environmental policy. This success seems to emanate from strategies, which penetrate the country’s governance structure. We examine the factors underlying the success of progressive environmental policy in Finland. We describe the evolution of long-term environmental policy in Finland, and then, focusing on 24 indepth interviews, we explain why the long-term policy persists, even when subjected to the pressures of traditional drivers associated with short-term politics, such as elections, political parties and interest groups. The interviewees are high-ranking makers of environmental policy who represent varying interests, including politicians, public officials, policy scientists, representatives for key interest groups and large companies. We find that the main enablers of future-oriented environmental policy are international commitments, semi-autonomous public administration and preparatory processes that include all relevant stakeholders. While our findings suggest that a successful long-term environmental policy endures primarily because of strategic forces that operate outside the immediate control of the institutions of representative democracy, the system relies on the support of governing majorities, which may also affect implementation. This study enhances our understanding of the factors that facilitate long-term policy-making and offers pragmatic evidence of how future-oriented environmental policy can be implemented.

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