Finland’s Vote Signals More Trouble for Euro Bailouts

BY Michael D. Mosettig  April 18, 2011 at 5:40 PM EST


True Finns’ Timo Soini (Martti Kainulainen/AFP/Getty Images)

Tea Party-like politics may be arriving in Europe.

That is how some European political analysts and commentators are interpreting the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in the Scandinavian nation of Finland, where a right-wing populist party made big gains by running against more European Union bailouts for the mostly Mediterranean countries swallowed up by debt.

One veteran analyst, Joseph Fitchett, the editor of the European Affairs blog, called the results “a political tsunami” for the European Union.

While politics across Europe have been drifting rightward since the 2008-09 economic crash, the Finnish elections were the first where a populist party got its boost not just from fighting rising levels of immigration, but from saying “enough” to EU bailouts for Greece, Ireland, and now Portugal.

A party called True Finns vaulted from relative obscurity to gain 19 percent of the vote and boost its representation in the 200-seat parliament from five to 39 seats. That outcome is likely to put the True Finns into a new government coalition, which is expected to take a harder line against Euro bailouts.

Indeed, a planned rescue for Portugal may now be in jeopardy as a result of the Finnish election, according to Fitchett and other analysts, and that was one factor that sent the euro dropping on international markets — amidst new U.S. debt worries. Under EU procedures, every bailout must be approved by all 17 nations dealing in the common currency. And Finland is the only one among them that requires its parliament to vote on the bailouts.

“We won’t allow Finnish cows to be milked by other hands,” European Affairs quoted Timo Soini, the leader of True Finns, himself a veteran member of both the European and Finnish parliaments — but who runs as an anti-establishment candidate.

According to Krista Taubert, a correspondent for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, True Finns bear some resemblance to the U.S. Tea Party, even if their leadership is more experienced. She said True Finns have their roots in a former agrarian party. “Their values are patriotic and conservative,” she said. (The Tea Party analogy was first made by Peter Spiegel, a Brussels correspondent for The Financial Times, last Tuesday.)

But Taubert added that the party’s success has some distinctive Finnish characteristics, especially the relatively recent memory of struggling through their own severe economic and banking collapse of the 1990s with no help from outsiders. Though True Finns got its start as an anti-immigration party, in a country where immigrants comprise less than 3 percent of the total 5.3 million people, their campaign was fixated on the euro debt issue, Taubert said.

According to Taubert, Soini and True Finns made the argument: “If we act in a responsible way, and we don’t throw away our money, why should Greece, Ireland and Portugal be allowed to behave differently?”

While many analysts professed surprise at the results, Brian Beary of Europolitics said internal EU polling always has shown the Finns almost as skeptical of the EU as their Swedish neighbors and the British. But, he added, the Finns “are always under the radar; they don’t go out in the streets and demonstrate.”

A tricky and possibly long coalition building process now begins between True Finns and the National Coalition and Social Democratic parties, which placed first and second. The new coalition will replace one led by the ruling Centre Party, which has provided Finland’s last three prime ministers.

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