Furman alumnus Alex Stubb elected president of Finland
The people of Finland went to the polls in recent weeks and on Sunday, Feb. 11, a partly sunny day in Helsinki when the temperature reached a balmy 16 degrees Fahrenheit, they elected a Furman Paladin, Alex Stubb ’93 H’17, as their next president.
Stubb, a member of the mainstream center-right National Coalition Party, received 51.6 percent of the votes, outlasting his opponent, Pekka Haavisto, in a runoff. Haavisto, the current foreign minister of Finland and a member of the center-left Green Party, received 48.4 percent.
As president, Stubb’s main duties in his six-year term will be overseeing foreign and security policy, representing the country in NATO and serving as commander in chief of his country’s military. Finland has “a semi-presidential system, a cross between a president with real powers and a party-driven parliament,” said Brent Nelsen, the Jane Fishburne Hipp Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Furman.
Stubb is the first Furman graduate to serve as a head of state. As commencement speaker in 2017, he explained that he came to Furman because his brother had studied here. At first he wanted to study business, but he quickly became interested in political science.
“Alex Stubb is a remarkable leader,” said Furman University President Elizabeth Davis. “He is an engaging and profoundly curious person with a strong moral compass that always points to doing what’s best for his fellow citizens. I’m tremendously happy for him, and proud of him. He will be an excellent president for his home country of Finland.”
Stubb’s election, Nelsen said, “is amazing! We always knew Alex was going places. I thought when he was prime minister he might have been at the top of his game, and maybe he would be elected a commissioner in the European Union.”
There weren’t significant policy differences between Stubb and Haavisto, Nelsen said. The country recently joined NATO, a move Stubb has long supported and Haavisto, as foreign minister, brokered. They both are staunchly defiant of Russia and its invasion of Ukraine. Finland, a country of just over 5 million people, smaller than Metro Atlanta, shares an 832-plus-mile border with Russia. In recent months Finland has closed the border in an attempt to control a flood of migrants from Russia.
Stubb’s advantage, Nelsen said, was his long experience in Finland’s government. Stubb served as Finland’s prime minister from 2014 to 2015, a role that focuses mainly on domestic policy. Stubb has also served as minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance, among other positions, and he was a member of the European Parliament, among other roles. He was vice president of the European Investment Bank from 2017 to 2020.
He’s also very outgoing and personable. He took to social media quickly and built large followings posting about his participation in triathlons. And, he’s seen as a family man, which appeals to the relatively conservative Finns, Nelsen said.
Stubb has always been supportive of Furman, said Nelsen, who was Stubb’s professor in several classes in the 1990s and co-authored a textbook with him. He covered a lot of ground about his career in this Furman Magazine story. Overseas, Stubb took time to meet with students on several occasions when Nelsen took groups of students to Brussels and Italy. At the 2017 commencement, during which Furman bestowed an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree on Stubb, he thanked professors Bill Lavery, Nelsen, Ty Tessitore, Don Gordon and Jim Guth. “These were the guys who instilled the notion of curiosity, academia, and a love of learning to me,” he said. He called graduating from Furman one of the proudest moments of his life. “I would not stand here (were) it not for Furman and the professors,” he said.
After Furman, Stubb studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and got a master’s degree from the College of Europe in Bruges, where he met his wife Suzanne. He later received a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics.
Stubb will be inaugurated as president of Finland on March 1 in Helsinki.