Finland goes to the polls

Finland’s general election today represents one of those domestic political pressures, in Ireland and elsewhere, I mentioned which could have much wider ramifications.

As RTÉ reports

The reason the outcome of this election is being watched so closely is that Finland’s parliament has the right to vote on EU bailouts, such as the one currently being negotiated between Portugal and EU and IMF officials.

And as EU rules state that any bailout must be approved unanimously by all 17 eurozone members, an anti-euro Finnish Government could hold-up the process and further spook debt markets.

Rising Finnish nationalist party, True Finns, are the focus of the speculation

Finland is currently governed by an EU-friendly four-party coalition led by Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi’s Centre Party and the conservative NCP.

Opinion polls before the vote suggested the NCP would garner a narrow lead, just ahead of the Centre Party and the opposition Social Democrats, making a new coalition the most likely outcome.

“The bigger parties have no reason to invite the True Finns into any coalition if they can make up the numbers without them,” Olavi Borg, professor emeritus in political sciences, told the Associated Press news agency.

Polling organisations have given the True Finns more than 15%, a leap from the 4% they won in 2007.

With its charismatic leader Timo Soini, the party rejects rescue funds for EU “squanderers”, as well as opposing immigration.

Analysts say many Finns have become disenchanted with the big three mainstream parties who have run the country for decades.

“Whether the True Finns will really [emerge] as champions of the elections is still uncertain but I think we will clearly get a more nationalistic, more conservative, less European-oriented government in Finland,” ING senior economist Carsten Brzeski told Reuters news agency.

The Google-hosted AFP report adds

The party’s leader Timo Soini has attracted voters with his down-to-earth charisma, and has deflected wide-spread accusations against his party of xenophobia, vote-pandering and inexperience.

The party, which currently holds only six out of 200 seats, will most likely bring an influx of right-wing MPs into parliament.

However, it is not expected to become part of the next government, since Soini has ruled out joining a coalition in favour of increasing loan guarantees to the EU’s emergency bailout fund, and polls are predicting a victory for the pro-EU National Coalition party.

Outgoing Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, who heads that party and will probably be the next prime minister if it maintains its lead, has stressed that Finland must “act responsibly” in the bloc to avoid a meltdown of the eurozone.

The SDP has meanwhile suffered the most at the hands of the True Finns, as the disgruntled working class has abandoned it in droves.

In an attempt to stop the haemorrhaging of voters, the SDP has altered its message to sound a lot more like that of the True Finns, with a more sceptical line on immigration and a new cautious, even unclear approach to the EU.

Update  According to the updated BBC report

True Finns won 39 seats in the 200-member parliament, final results showed.

That put it five seats behind the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) – part of the current centre-right government and a strong advocate for European integration – and just three behind the opposition Social Democrats.

The Centre Party of outgoing Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi – previously the largest party in parliament – won just 35 seats, down 16 from the last election in 2007.

Which doesn’t give True Finns a majority, but it means that any vote on a bail-out, or any other EU issues, will depend on the political calculations of one of the other parties.