Open Europe Blog

The exact consequences for the eurozone of the True Finns’ success in yesterday’s Finnish elections remain unclear. The result makes it the third largest party, securing 39 seats in the 200-strong parliament with 19% of the votes, close behind the National Coalition Party (NCP), which received 20.5% of the votes (44 seats in Parliament) and the Social Democrats which won 19.1% of the votes (42 seats). To put this into context, they polled only 4% in the last national elections.

With performance better than the 15 or so percent expected on Friday, a seat within the new coalition government is now a distinct possibility. Finnish television Yle quotes the party secretary of the victorious National Coalition Party saying that a government consisting of the three major parties is a “strong possibility”, with the NCP’s Jyrki Katainen as Prime Minister.

Formal coalition negotiations are due to start on 27 April, which could make it very difficult for Finland to sign up to a bail-out package for Portugal, as that requires the approval of Finnish Parliament. True Finns leader Timo Soini has re-stated his opposition to the Portuguese bail-out package following last night’s election results. “I don’t believe that the package that is there will remain”, he told Yle last night. The Social Democrats want Portugal to restructure its debt rather than seek a bail-out, which is an additional factor in all of this. However, let’s not also forget as with all politicians, Mr. Soini wants to be in government – he wants powers – so it’s possible that he might compromise on the party’s tough ‘no more bailouts’ position. What’s clear is that when it comes to the EU Soini and Katainen occupy two different planets.

Regardless, it’s clear that a new brand of “triple A” populism has emerged in the creditor eurozone countries, whose voters are voicing strong opposition to the “we’ll keep the euro together at any price” doctrine that they have been fed by EU elites up to now. As we’ve noted before, such anti-euro sentiments are now picked up by nationalist parties from Vienna to Paris, feeding into the mix of anti-incumbency, pro-independence and most often, strong anti-immigration sentiments.

As we also noted before, the “far-right” label is inappropriate as a generalised term to describe the various parties currently occupying this space around Europe – they’re all different in their make-up, roots and emphasis with some a lot nastier than others – and the True Finns simply isn’t a “far right” party. What’s clear though, is that they all push a heavily nationalist agenda, and they all fish in more or less murky, anti-immigration waters.

But in relation to the eurozone specifically, what’s so significant about this election is that it’s changing the parameters of the debate. In Austria, Netherlands, Germany and France, the established parties have managed to keep strong anti-euro, anti-bail-out forces outside the realm of government. The Dutch government rely on the opposition parties to circumvent Gert Wilders’ Freedom Party, for example. If the True Finns make it into government – and chances are that they will – ‘triple A populism’ will have become part of the mainstream conversation, in a mainstream European country.

The guiding principle of European integration has always been ‘build the institutions and the facts of life will follow’. In the realms of eurozone bail-outs, as well as in the contentious domain of immigration, this guiding principle is now being tested to its limits.

As Gideon Rachman points out on his blog today, the EU is in “deep trouble”. Someone (a certain Mr T. Blair), in a speech to the European Parliament, said in 2005:

“It is time to give ourselves a reality check. To receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets round the city walls. Are we listening? Have we the political will to go out and meet them so that they regard our leadership as part of the solution not the problem?”

That was six years ago. It’s a most unfortunate irony that EU leaders, in their misguided efforts to stamp out ‘nationalism’ via over-building institutions and attempting to superimpose an artificial identity from above, are now contributing to the rise of the very currents they were professing to fight.

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