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Home Opinion The Finns Party’s Modest Victory
EU Elections • Finland • Populism

The Finns Party’s Modest Victory

Niko Hatakka - 29 May 2014

For the Finnish populists, the European election result was a slight disappointment, but the Finns Party is already looking towards next year’s national parliamentary elections. This will limit the party’s options in the European parliamentary group formation negotiations in June

Three days before the Finnish EP elections, the Social Democratic Party’s newly appointed leader Antti Rinne stated, “We’re going to get our asses kicked.” And that’s what happened – the SDP came in fourth with the worst electoral result in the party’s history. Still, the SDP’s plummet didn’t significantly seem to aid the Finns Party, even though the Finns’ centre-leftist nationalists have for several years tried to court the SDP’s most conservative voters.

The populist Finns Party gained 12.9 percent of the votes – and as predicted in the polls – increased its number of seats in the European Parliament from one to two. The party increased its share of votes by 3.1 percentage points from the 2009 EP elections – and therefore was left far from the memorable 2011 parliamentary election victory, in which the eurosceptics rode the highly salient eurozone crisis to obtain 19.1 percent of the votes.

The Finns Party undoubtedly expected their victory to be less modest. For the first time the party had a full list of candidates and sufficient funds to run an extensive campaign, trying to mobilise an already established support base. Most importantly, the party could target the same sentiments as in the previous electoral victory: widespread anti-EU and anti-immigration attitudes combined with dissatisfaction with a fumbling and divided national government. But this time, the Finns Party’s monopoly over criticism was jeopardised by two other winners, the Centre Party and the Left Alliance, who on top of regaining some of their previously lost supporters also managed to attract a part of the unsatisfied and eurosceptical votes.

Due to non-ordered open lists and the whole country being one constituency, the EP elections in Finland are quite candidate centered. Even though the top candidates MP Jussi Halla-aho and MEP Sampo Terho managed together to gather over half of the party’s overall votes, they couldn’t entirely compare to the charismatic party leader Timo Soini’s absence.

Like Soini, both of them are well-educated, intelligent and excellent debaters – but neither of them come from the Finnish agrarian populist tradition of which Timo Soini is the prime example. Both Halla-aho and Terho represent a younger, sleeker and a more of a right wing side to the Finns Party. Dr. Jussi Halla-aho, who won the second highest number of votes in the whole country, is regarded as the discursive leader of the Finns Party’s anti-multiculturalists. Before his career as an MP, he largely gathered his followers as one of the most prolific online critics of immigration and Islam in Finland. For Sampo Terho, immigration has never been as strong a focal point as for Halla-aho.

Both men are in fervent rhetorical opposition to federalism and to the centralisation of power in the EU, but neither the Finns Party nor their two MEPs wish for Finland to leave the European Union or the eurozone. Still, both Halla-aho and Terho would support a hypothetical national referendum on Finnish membership in the EU.

The Finns Party’s goal to become Finland’s most popular party has now been postponed to next year’s national parliamentary elections, after which the party wishes to take part in government. But if the current trend holds up and the Finns Party doesn’t gain a significant enough victory, the Coalition Party and the Centre Party shouldn’t have insurmountable problems finding a way to form a government without them. Therefore the urgency of next year’s electoral struggle will most likely effect how the Finns Party will act in the upcoming negotiations on the formation of the political groups of the new European Parliament in June.

In order to win in 2015, the Finns Party needs to appear as legitimate, non-threatening and non-extremist, yet tough enough on immigration and on the EU. Being in co-operation with far-right parties in the EP would not benefit this pursuit. The party leader Timo Soini has battled against his party’s affiliation with racist and prejudiced attitudes for example by publicly distancing himself from the party’s more outspoken critics of immigration, so his stance will not be hard to predict. Even Jussi Halla-aho has stated that the Finns Party will refuse to co-operate with parties such as Golden Dawn and Jobbik.

If and when the Finns Party gives the cold shoulder to the most extreme-right-parties, the party has three options. The first and less likely option would be to join the now slightly weakened European Conservatives and Reformists group. The second and more appealing option would be to find enough non-radical eurosceptics to found a group in the ideological no-mans-land between the ECR and the far right – in other words to form a similar or slightly different incarnation of the last electoral cycle’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy group. But what the Finnish eurosceptics want the most is that the ECR and the EFD could join forces to become the third largest group within the European Parliament.

Niko Hatakka is postgraduate researcher at the Centre for Parliamentary studies at the University of Turku, Finland

This is a contribution to Policy Network's work on Understanding Populism .

Tags: Niko Hatakka , Opinion , Finland , SDP , Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue , SDP , Demarit , Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti , True Finns , The Finns Party , Perussuomalaiset , PS , Sannfinländarna , Sannf , Kokoomus , National Coalition Party , Ansallinen Kokoomus r.p. , Kok. , Samlingspartiet r.p. , Saml , Finnish Rural Party , SMP , Suomen maaseudun puolue , Heidi Hautala , Greenpeace , Renewable Energy , Green Energy , Environmentalism , Environmental Sustainability , Precariat , Pekka Haavisto ,

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