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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
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The Finns party may have done its work too well. The two established parties most vulnerable to Soini’s appeal to rural and working-class voters have taken a markedly euroskeptic turn, not least the Social Democrats, from whose ranks the country’s finance minister is drawn. As a result, Finland has become an increasingly awkward member of the eurozone’s glum rescue party. The country insisted that its contribution to the second Greek bailout finalized in early 2012 be backed by collateral. And so (partially) it was, somewhat secretively and somewhat complicatedly, but good enough to allow the Finnish government to offer some reassurance to its restless electorate, a feat it essentially repeated for July’s Spanish bank bailout. Soini clearly remains skeptical about how valuable some of this collateral might eventually prove to be, joking that it really consisted of “stuffed penguins.” But whatever the role that Antarctic wildfowl may play in the efforts to protect the country’s finances, there is no doubt that, where it can, Finland is acting as a brake of sorts on the pace of largesse.

Yet still the ratchet turns. The aggressive actions of the European Central Bank have relieved some of the pressure on the eurozone for now, and Greece has just weathered its latest storm, but the crisis​—​not over by far​—​will continue to fuel demands for the cash and closer integration that the euro’s survival may require. That’ll be bad news for Finland’s finances and a disaster for its democracy, but when it comes down to the wire, the track record of its government​—​which includes just about everybody other than the PS​—​would suggest that it will be unlikely to say no. 

The reasons for that might be respectable​—​unwillingness to risk the cost and the chaos that a euro collapse might involve​—​and they might be based on a genuinely idealistic, if misguided, belief in the virtues of deeper European integration, or perhaps even on humility: Is it really for little Finland to put an end to such a grand dream? Then again, less attractive reasoning could come into play. The groupthink of Brussels has a curiously powerful allure, as does the siren whistle of its generous gravy train, and the pleasures, as Soini, puts it, of the (ministerial) Audi.

Soini, who spent time in the belly of the beast as a member of the European parliament and didn’t like what he saw (he tells me a few tales of expense accounts), is not optimistic that Finland will bring this long farce to a close. On the other hand, this is the same Soini who, channeling Churchill, delighted the crowd at UKIP’s 2012 conference with his declaration that “we will never surrender.” Somehow I don’t think that he will.

Andrew Stuttaford works in the international financial markets and writes frequently about cultural and political issues.

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