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Who is Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin? And what's she doing during her Australian visit?

ABC News (AU) logo ABC News (AU) 1/12/2022

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin has defied Russian leader Vladimir Putin, headed a progressive centre-left coalition and sparked debates over how hard leaders can be seen partying in public.

Now the 37-year-old is in Australia to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and give a talk on global security for the Lowy Institute on Friday.

Woah, 37? Is she the youngest serving PM?

It was a title Ms Marin held for a little while after her election, aged 34, in December 2019, but she was soon pipped by 33-year-old Austrian Sebastian Kurz in January 2020. 

Not to make you feel inadequate or anything, but some of the youngest currently serving world leaders in their 30s include Peru's prime minister, Betssy Chávez (33), Chile's president, Gabriel Boric (36), and Montenegro's prime minister, Dritan Abazović (36).

Saudi Arabia's prime minister, Mohammed bin Salman (37), and North Korea's Kim Jong-un (39) are also among the world's youngest leaders.

So, who is Sanna Marin? 

Very briefly, Ms Marin was born in Helsinki and raised by same-sex parents after her biological parents broke up.

Ms Marin reportedly worked at a bakery while she studied at university. 

Then she made a swift political rise, becoming head of the city council in the industrial town of Tampere at the age of 27.

In 2015, she was elected to the Finnish parliament.

She gave birth to her daughter, Emma, in 2018.

And, by June 2019, she had become minister of transport and communications, before taking on the top job a few months later.

How would I know her? 

Well, alongside Sweden's prime minister, Magdelena Andersson, Ms Marin ended Finland's decades-long non-militarily-aligned status to apply to join NATO after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

NATO — which is short for North Atlantic Treaty Organization — is basically a collection of 30 countries who have agreed to defend each other from attacks by third parties.

So, it's a pretty big deal for the country of about 5 million people that shares a 1,340-kilometre border — and a lot of history — with Russia.

Then there are the videos of Ms Marin partying with friends recently that circulated online and grabbed headlines.

These were met with criticism from some quarters, while others praised her for having fun outside of work, like a regular person in their 30s would usually do.

Ms Marin took a drug test, which returned a negative result, for her "own legal protection" after the party footage was circulated online. 

Finland’s chancellor of justice concluded the PM had not neglected her responsibilities and cleared her of any misconduct.

The PM also apologised after a photo was published showing two women kissing and posing topless at her official summer residence.

In December last year, she apologised for socialising and dancing in a crowded nightclub after being exposed to COVID-19.

What is Ms Marin doing in Australia? 

Well, she is the prime minister of Finland but that concept was a bit tricky for a Kiwi journalist when Ms Sanna met with New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Wednesday.

Ms Ardern shut down a suggestion from the reporter that she had met with Ms Marin "just because" of similarities such as their age and gender.

"We are meeting because we are prime ministers," was Ms Marin's response.

Ms Marin is also the first Finnish PM to visit Australia and New Zealand.

And she's here for a pretty serious reason.

"Finland, as an aspiring NATO member, thinks more globally in security issues, and Australia is a key player in the Pacific region, so that dimension certainly plays a role," Teivo Tevainen, a professor of World Politics at Helsinki University, told the ABC.

What are Ms Marin's politics like in Finland?

After she came to power — with women leading the five parties in the ruling coalition government — Finland made changes to paid parental leave.

Both parents in a family were each granted almost seven months' paid leave, ending gender-based allowances and making Australia's plan look fairly stingy by comparison.

She has spoken out against China's treatment of the Uyghurs.

"The international community cannot turn a blind eye to China's policies that trample human rights and oppress minorities," she said on social media.


However, she has also been criticised for her handling of a self-determination bill for Northern Europe's Indigenous people, the Sámi.

Finland will hold national elections in April next year.

Political polling can be tenuous, but Professor Tevainen says the polls suggest Ms Marin may not remain in the top job.

He says her party looks likely to remain in government, however, as a junior coalition partner with another party's leader as prime minister.

"But still, until April many things could happen in this volatile global situation, with the war and energy crisis which we are seeing," Professor Tevainen said. 

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