Brussels' Fear of the True Finns Rise of Populist Parties Pushes Europe to the Right

A True Finns' supporter on election night. The success of the right-wing populist party has shocked many in the European Union.

A True Finns' supporter on election night. The success of the right-wing populist party has shocked many in the European Union.

Part 2: FDP Rebels Could Cause Problems for Merkel

Like Schäffler, fellow FDP member Wolfgang Gerhardt, a former party chairman who supports a unified Europe, has also come to believe that it is "simply outrageous that the German government's representatives in Brussels make commitments without so much as consulting the members of the German parliament."

Schäffler plans to make his move at an upcoming FDP convention in the northern city of Rostock. He and 11 other Bundestag members have drafted a motion that contradicts government policy in almost every respect. Schäffler and his fellow combatants are demanding that banks and other private-sector lenders be involved in the euro rescue program, and that member states that do not satisfy the monetary union's stability requirements be given the option to withdraw. Schäffler also wants the German government to pressure the European Central Bank to stop buying up the bonds of debt-stricken countries in the future.

Schäffler's foray could create problems for Chancellor Angela Merkel. If members of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, join the FDP renegades, the CDU/CSU and the FDP (who together make up Merkel's coalition government) will lack the necessary majority in the Bundestag to approve the new euro crisis fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). One CDU member of parliament, the budget policy expert Klaus-Peter Willsch, has already joined the ranks of the FDP rebels.

Schäffler already feels strong enough to demand changes from FDP leaders. "It isn't enough just to replace the party leadership," says Schäffler. "The FDP also has to score points in the cabinet with new appointments. If we want to implement liberal objectives in tax policy or in the euro rescue program, we have to appoint the finance minister."

Helping to Shape Policy

Although it is not very likely that anti-euro politicians like Schäffler or Le Pen will soon be shaping government policy in their countries, they have already changed the political climate in Europe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, is reacting to his political competition on the right when he pursues certain populist policies, such as deporting Roma to Romania or having a train carrying Tunisian refugees stopped at the Italian border.

The German chancellor has also proved to be open to views critical of the euro. Partly because of resistance from the FDP, Merkel had the European bailout funds amended several times, and additional corrections are in the works. To curb discontent within the coalition partners' respective parliamentary groups, the German government wants to demand more of a say for national parliaments at the upcoming negotiations over the ESM.

From Helsinki to Rome to The Hague, the anti-Brussels parties can make the dubious claim of already helping shape policy on the continent today. Out of fear of right-wing populists, European leaders are behaving like right-wing populists themselves -- and driving Europe further and further apart as a result.

Split over Europe

This could also happen in Helsinki, where the three parties that are trying to form a government have different positions when it comes to Europe. While Euro rebel Soini wants to change the conditions of aid for Portugal and the euro rescue fund, the leader of the conservative National Coalition Party, Jyrki Katainen, supports the European agreements. "The changes cannot be very significant," says the designated prime minister. The aid package for Portugal, says Katainen, is in Finland's interest and is "essential" for economic stability. "The Finnish government's position must be to solve problems and not create new ones."

What remains unclear, however, is the extent to which Katainen can rely on the Social Democrats, which, as the second-largest party, will also be part of the new government. Former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, a Social Democrat, helped make Finland the model European country it is today.

His successor as party chairman, Jutta Urpilainen, has a different agenda, which could still become a serious threat to all of Europe. Urpilainen seems determined to take a leaf out of the right-wing populists' book, especially following the recent election result.

When it comes to the conditions for the euro rescue, she says, the Social Democrats are "more closely aligned with the True Finns than with the conservatives."


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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