Finnish Parliament's Lurch to Right Could Complicate EU Financial Bail-outs (4/18)     Print Email

Finland has sustained a political tsunami in a parliamentary election that brought a spectacular breakthrough for a eurosceptic and potentially isolationist party, the True Finns. It rocketed to near-equality with the county’s two leading parties, quadrupling its votes during the past election.

The True Finns party has had a meteoric rise in recent months as economic and ethnic tensions have roiled the EU, including even Nordic and Baltic nations that have been deemed pillars of stability. In 2007 in Finland’s last parliamentary election, the True Finns finished eighth among the parties, with less than two percent of the vote.

The True Finns, with a strongly anti-EU and anti-immigration platform, oppose Finnish participation in any EU bailouts, including the one currently being negotiated with Portugal.

A new coalition government could emerge between the front-running conservative National Coalition Party and the second-placed Social Democrats, but even with the True Finns excluded from government, Finland may emerge as a major obstacle for EU plans to maintain the eurozone. The Social Democrats have also voiced doubts about the terms of the proposed Portuguese bail-out.

More significantly, Finland is the first EU member state where a country’s participation in an EU bailout has to be approved by the national parliament. As a result, this nation of 5.6 million people may shift from being a quietly positive member of the eurozone to becoming an obstacle to EU consensus.

Timo Soini, 48,  the leader of the populist True Finns, has indicated that he would not seek to veto  a concerted EU bail-out – provided that Finland did not have to help pay for it.

"Our money must not be splashed out on mechanisms that don't work," Soini told Finnish YLE radio.

"We won't be dictating conditions for the rest of Europe but we will maintain the right for Finland to decide for itself on money matters," he said. "Finnish cows must be milked in Finland and we shouldn't send their milk for charity outside the borders of this country."

If Finland votes against a Portuguese bailout program, the European Financial Stability Facility would be paralyzed; if it merely abstains, the remaining eurozone countries could in theory go ahead with a bailout without Finnish contributions.

However, that means other countries would have to make up for the lost guarantees, a scenario that would run into opposition in other well-off states like Germany, the Netherlands or Austria, where sentiment against the bailouts also runs high.

Soini's showing struck a poerful new chord in Finnish politics. Finland has had a strong (but largely undebated) national consensus led by elite opinion favoring steady support of the EU since joining in 1995 and the euro since joining it in 2002. It may take weeks to measure what role, if any, his party will play in the next Finnish government.

Helsinki’s stance could become less cooperative if Mr. Soini’s influence grows, fueling an expanding a voter backlash accross Europe against EU financial rescues for eurozone laggards.

A thick-set bear of a man, the jovial Soini – who is a member of the European Parliament -- thrives on challenging the established political parties with his rejection of European integration, dislike of the euro and his anti-immigration rhetoric. He is described as a politiian who is ultimately pragmatic. But even if he is not part of the new coalition to be formed in coming weeks, his party, with some political horse-trading, might be able to muster a parliamentary majority to back his views on the bail-out issue and eurozone rescue mechanism known as the European Financial Stability Mechanism.

European Affairs