Finland's new female-powered government sworn in

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HELSINKI (AP) — Finland's new center-left coalition government has been sworn in, with the country's first Social Democratic prime minister in 16 years assuming office along with a climate issue-focused Cabinet where women are in the majority.

The 19-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Antti Rinne — a former finance minister and trade union leader — was approved Thursday in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature, after which President Sauli Niinisto appointed it.

Eleven of the Cabinet members are female, reflecting Nordic gender equality in the nation's politics.

With the Social Democrats in power in Sweden since 2014, and social democratic parties in Finland and Denmark scoring general election wins in the past few months, the political tide has turned to the left in the Nordic countries — overcoming strong populist movements in each nation.

Rinne's Social Democratic Party, the Center Party, the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People's Party of Finland clinched a coalition deal Monday after weeks of intensive talks.

The five parties muster a comfortable 117 seats in the Parliament.

Their 182-page government program pledges to make the nation of 5.5 million "a sustainable society socially, economically and ecologically" with strong emphasis on environmental and climate change issues.

"We (the government) are determined to tackle the challenge of climate change. But it needs to be done in a socially fair way," Rinne told reporters at the Cabinet's first news conference.

The best election result ever by the Greens — which increased its lawmakers by five seats to 20 and has gradually evolved to be a mainstream political operator instead of a niche player — gave environmentalists a strong say in government formation talks and the Cabinet's polices.

The party, whose key supporter base is young, educated women in big cities, received three key Cabinet portfolios — the posts of foreign minister, interior minister and environment and climate affairs minister.

"This is a great day for the Greens in Finland and the green movement worldwide. Finland now has a situation where sustainable development and tackling climate change are the basis of the government program," said elated Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, the party's chairman.

Haavisto, 61, is a veteran green activist, two-time presidential candidate and a former U.N. special envoy with a long experience in global crisis-solving and third-world development issues, particularly in Africa.

After eight years of tight austerity policies by previous center-right governments, Rinne's Cabinet pledges to boost public spending by some 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

The money will be allocated to education, infrastructure investments, social services and military, among other things, to be covered largely by tax hikes and possibly the sale of public assets.

Sharing a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, Finland is a member of the European Union but remains militarily non-aligned and doesn't belong to NATO — a policy it shares with Nordic neighbor Sweden.

The new government stresses Finland is not currently facing any military threat, but it keeps open the option of seeking NATO membership.

One of the government's main defense decisions will be picking a successor to Finland's 64 F-18 Hornet fighter jets — a multibillion-dollar investment decision to be taken in 2021.

Finland takes over the EU's rotating six-month presidency from current chairman Romania on July 1.

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