Election Success for the True Finns Finland's Right Turn Spells Trouble for Europe

The right-wing populist party True Finns won 19 percent of the vote in Finland on Sunday. The euroskeptic party has said it is opposed to a bailout package for Portugal, which could spell trouble for the euro zone.
Leader of the right-wing populist party True Finns, Timo Soini, basks in the election night glow of success. His party received 19 percent of the vote.

Leader of the right-wing populist party True Finns, Timo Soini, basks in the election night glow of success. His party received 19 percent of the vote.


Now, it is Finland's turn. Following in the footsteps of several northern European countries in recent years -- and continuing a trend that has been particularly apparent in Scandinavia -- Finnish voters on Sunday threw substantial support behind the right-wing populist party True Finns.

The party, led by Timo Soini, 48, grabbed 19 percent of the vote, more than quadrupling its result in 2007. And while Soini adheres to the standard collection of xenophobic and anti-Islam positions common to the right wing everywhere, it is his party's position on the euro which has engendered the most concern across Europe.

"We have to this point been too soft when it comes to Europe," Soini said on Monday, basking in his election success. "That has to change." In particular, Soini said, the euro-zone bailout package currently being designed for Portugal must be revisited.

While the results are not yet final, the True Finns are now set to be the third largest party in the Finnish parliament, behind 20.4 percent for the National Collection Party -- which for the first time in its history received the most votes of any party in the country -- and the Social Democrats, which received 19.1 percent. The Center Party of incumbent Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi came in a disappointing fourth with 15.8 percent, meaning that Kiviniemi will hand over leadership after just 10 months in office.

Gray Hair for Europe

Even more concerning for Brussels, Finland's Social Democrats are also extremely skeptical of euro-zone bailouts. The party voted against the bailout packages for both Greece and Ireland. But the governments of Kiviniemi and her predecessor Matti Vanhanen -- both of which led centrist-center right coalitions -- supported the aid packages.

"The result will give Europe gray hairs," political analyst Olavi Borg told the Associated Press. "It will cause them problems over the bailout funds." Bailout packages under the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) require the support of all countries in the euro zone, of which Finland is a member.

The EU's concerns are likely to be increased by the Finnish political tradition of striving for consensus. Rather than attempting to shut out Soini's right-wing populists, they are likely to be included in Helsinki's future government. Observers expect a coalition between the conservative National Collection Party, the Social Democrats and the True Finns to be the most likely outcome.

From Homophobia to Euro-Phobia

Such a constellation would see National Collection Party leader Jyrki Katainen, 39, become prime minister with Social Democrat leader Jutta Urpilainen as finance minister. Soini's future position, however, seems much less clear. There is some speculation that he could be made the head of a new immigration portfolio. But he has so far declined to offer insight into his thinking. "The coalition negotiations will be difficult," he said on Sunday, "but interesting."

The True Finns' success on Sunday follows a recent trend in Scandinavia, which has seen right-wing populist parties do well in a region that was once dominated exclusively by the social democratic center-left. The right-wing Danish People's Party won 13.9 percent of the vote there in 2007, and their counterparts in Norway won 22.9 percent in 2009. A similarly xenophobic party in Sweden managed just 5.7 percent in 2010.

Soini's success comes primarily as a result of support from young men with average to low levels of both education and income. He has presented himself as a man of the people, but has raised eyebrows with his homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and Euro-phobia.

cgh -- with wire reports