Finns Party is on course for huge gains in local elections.
The far-right Finns Party is on course to more than double its share of the vote at local elections in Finland on Sunday in a show of strength that could spell trouble for Brussels.
Over recent weeks, Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho has revved up interest in normally sedate local elections, entering the race to be mayor of the capital Helsinki and dragging hot-button national issues into the campaign, especially immigration and Finland’s relations with the EU.
A controversial Finns Party ad campaign suggesting immigrants are able to jump Helsinki’s public housing queue was pulled by the authorities this week after accusations that it was discriminatory, but not before the posters had grabbed national headlines and provided the party with valuable extra publicity.
The ad campaign built on months of similar messaging.
In a speech last month, Halla-aho blamed rising social security spending on immigration and claimed new arrivals made life harder for various groups in society.
“For the poor, it means ghettoized residential areas and schools and poorer public services,” he said. “For entrepreneurs and wage earners, it means a growing tax burden.”
In the same speech, he decried EU member Finland’s lack of influence in Brussels and said his country should push back harder against policies it doesn’t like.
“There is no influence in being quiet and nodding,” he said.
The rise of the Finns Party echoes similar developments in nearby countries, where anti-EU parties have become more influential. In Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats could get real power for the first time at national elections next fall and in Estonia, the far-right EKRE party was in government until recently and is plotting a comeback.
For its part, the Finns Party recently did its best to hold up Finland’s ratification of the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund, Next Generation EU, which for the first time includes a plan for joint borrowing by EU states on capital markets.
Finns Party MP Sebastian Tynkkynen spoke out against the EU plan for eight hours in parliament without a break in mid-May — a Finnish record — in an effort to drag out the approval process.
“I think that this Next Generation EU package is harmful both for Finland and for the EU,” Tynkkynen told POLITICO. “In the longer term, this gives a dangerous signal for member states that mismanagement of economies will be taken care of by other member states.”
Recent opinion polling suggests the Finns Party’s harsher anti-immigrant, EU-hostile messaging is proving effective ahead of the municipal election on Sunday, with the party expected to win 18 percent of the vote, behind only the center-right National Coalition Party, NCP, on 19.6 percent. Just 8.8 percent of voters backed the Finns at the last municipal elections four years ago.
“The Finns are definitely heading for their best municipal election results in history,” said Thomas Karv, a political scientist at Finland’s Åbo University. “It will be easy for Halla-aho to frame the election results as a success.”
The Finns Party was founded in 1995 but didn’t score a significant breakthrough in parliament until 2011 when it seized on anti-EU sentiment in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to win 39 of 200 seats.
The party leader at the time, Timo Soini, won voters over with stiff resistance to the EU’s efforts to support struggling southern European member countries, especially Greece.
Soini took the Finns into government in 2015 but saw support for the party collapse as voters became disillusioned with his perceived willingness to compromise with coalition partners, especially over immigration policy.
Since taking over from Soini in 2017, Halla-aho has rebuilt the Finns Party’s anti-establishment credentials through a steady stream of harsh criticism of the current government and Brussels.
“The style of Halla-aho is such that he is not seen as someone who kneels before others,” said Teivo Teivainen, a political scientist at Helsinki University.
Halla-aho’s challenge, two years out from the next parliamentary elections, is to build strong enough links with potential partners to be able to turn the Finns Party’s current momentum into national power.
Experts believe Halla-aho sees the center-right NCP as the most suitable coalition ally. To this end, they note that Halla-aho has already moved the Finns Party’s economic policies closer to those of the NCP, with suggestions that state support for businesses should be cut and job security for workers reduced.
But for a coalition between the two to work, the NCP will have to decide whether it can accept the Finns Party’s more aggressively anti-immigrant positions.
Halla-aho recently posted a link to a story about an attempted abduction of a woman to his Twitter feed. Above it, he added a comment in quotation marks: “The victim’s mother says that the perpetrators had ‘Arab-like complexion.’”
The quote was not from the article, and it was unclear where Halla-aho had sourced it from. He did not respond to a request to comment.