Fight for the Finnish
Leader of the Finns party, Timo Soini, at a polling station in Espoo last January
Dec 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 15 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
That the success of the PS and its kin elsewhere is due to the overreach of a project—an ever more deeply integrated Europe run by a small transnational elite—designed to head off such unruly expressions of populism is an irony to appreciate, if not always to savor. That it has happened in Finland only adds to its piquancy. Since joining the EU in 1995, Finland had always been a model pupil, diligent and thoroughly communautaire. Unlike Denmark, and despite initial considerable skepticism on the part of its population (in 1996 fewer than 30 percent of voters supported the idea of a single currency), Finland never negotiated an opt-out from its obligation to sign up for the euro, nor, like Sweden, did it simply grab one. The Swedes and the Danes then rejected the single currency in referenda, an opportunity never offered to the Finns. Eager to please the membership committee of a club they were desperately keen to join, Finland’s politicians were never going to risk allowing their electorate to second-guess the goal of monetary union.
For there was something else at work in Helsinki: the thought of a large and still troubling neighbor. Every step Finland took deeper into its new “European” identity, even the adoption of the EU’s funny money, was a step away from Muscovy. And it is not only the Finns who feel that way. Anxiety over the bully next door does much to explain the increasingly egregious Europhile posturing—plus royaliste que le roi—by some members of Poland’s political class, and, more poignantly, the reason given by the Estonian prime minister for signing his frugal, well-run country up for the madhouse math of the European Stability Mechanism: “Our objective,” he said, “is to never again be left alone.”
These are sentiments that Soini evidently understands. He shows me a photograph of his daughter standing on the apparently unguarded Finnish side of a stretch of the Russo-Finnish border that runs through the forests to the east. He reminds me—with a smile—that the U.K. did not exactly rush to Finland’s assistance when the Soviets invaded in 1939. I suspect he is not convinced that, if it ever really came down to it, Brussels’s umbrella would amount to much either. Finland must look after itself.
The still widespread idea that Finland needs Brussels to anchor it in the West is not one that the Finns party shares. It is opposed not only to Finland’s participation in the bailouts, but also to the euro itself (if a tad cagey about what to do about it). Most iconoclastically, the PS would prefer to see today’s EU replaced by a free trade area somewhat akin to the “common market” that gullible Britons believed they were joining in 1973. Within that looser association, Soini mentions there could be room for closer regional cooperation where it made sense, with the other Nordic nations, of course, and the Balts, say, and the Poles and maybe the Brits, too. And the Germans? “No, they would want to bring France with them.”
For now this is just talk. A large majority of Finns want to remain in the EU, and most still prefer to hang on to the euro. The bailouts of the eurozone’s weak sisters are a different matter. They are opposed by well over half of all voters.
It was voter anger over the bailouts that propelled the PS into the big leagues, but the party will struggle to take the championship. In the 2011 general election, it came in third with 19.1 percent of the vote, nearly five times the tally of four years before, but it was a triumph it failed to repeat in the presidential elections in early 2012: Soini (with 9.4 percent) was eliminated in the first round. In October’s municipal elections, the party won 12.3 percent of the vote, a result that may understate its real level of support but was nevertheless a disappointment when measured against the glory days of 2011.