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Finland’s far right has shelved EU exit demand (for now)

Finland’s far right has shelved EU exit demand (for now)

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HELSINKI — Brussels can stop worrying about a Finnish far-right push to take the country out of the EU, at least for now, the Nordic state’s new pro-EU foreign minister said. 

Finland’s new foreign policy chief, Elina Valtonen, said she believes the coalition government’s policy program, released earlier this summer after lengthy talks, demonstrates the government’s pro-EU line. 

The far-right Finns Party, the second largest of four governing parties after Valtonen’s National Coalition Party (NCP), remains committed to what it calls a “long-term” aim of taking Finland out of the EU, saying Brussels has taken too much political decision-making away from national capitals. 

But in the Finnish government program — which among other things describes Finland as an “active, reliable and solution-oriented member state” — there is little sign of Finns Party dissent against the NCP’s pro-EU stance. 

“Nobody expects all the coalition parties to agree on everything, but what the parties need to agree on is the negotiation result, which is the government program, and there I think we have a very good EU policy paragraph,” Valtonen said in an interview at the foreign ministry in Helsinki.

“The Finns Party has said that leaving the EU is like a long-term goal — whatever that means — but right now what we are interested in is the coming four years, and we don’t expect them to advocate a Finnish exit from the EU during that time,” she said.

These words should provide some reassurance in Brussels, where many mainstream pro-EU center-right and center-left policymakers have watched the ascent of the far right in various corners of the bloc with alarm. 

The rise of Giorgia Meloni in Italy represents the most radical shift in the balance of power, but in Sweden, calls by the far-right Sweden Democrats to return powers to Stockholm from Brussels have grown louder over recent weeks. 

In mid-August, the Finns held their annual conference in the southwestern city of Tampere, and lawmaker Jussi Halla-aho, the party’s nominee in the looming presidential election, restated the aim of leaving the EU, citing the “democratic deficit” caused by policies from Brussels. Delegates at the event attacked the EU’s climate strategy, among other policies, calling it “dictatorial.”

But top Finns Party figures, including Halla-aho, have acknowledged that a more fragmented EU would likely be less effective in providing necessary support to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion. 

Valtonen suggested this is a key reason why the Finns Party might be less willing to openly push for Finland to leave the EU in the short term. 

Finland’s new foreign policy chief, Elina Valtonen, said she believes the coalition government’s policy program demonstrates the government’s pro-EU line | Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

“The invasion has shown not only that the West has been unified, but also that the EU has been more unified in supporting Ukraine and taking a clear position against Russia as well,” she said. “That is something the Finnish people really like to support.”

Support for the EU in Finland remains relatively strong, with a report by Finnish business lobby EVA in May showing 64 percent of Finns were “positive” about the EU (based on the responses of 2,043 people).

Broad portfolio

While the corridors of power at the Helsinki parliament remain largely empty due to the summer recess, it has been a busy first few weeks in post for Valtonen. 

As well as threading the needle of the government’s EU policy, the foreign minister said her focus has been on ensuring Finland’s entry into NATO — after its accession in April — goes smoothly. 

The move has triggered an angry response from a number of Russian officials.

Earlier this month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Finland’s NATO entry, as well as the likely future entry of nearby Sweden, was “a serious destabilizing factor.”

He said new weapons were likely to be deployed in Finland “capable of hitting critical targets in Russia’s northwest.”

Meanwhile, Finnish media reported that during a visit to a region near the Finnish border in early August, Nikolai Patrushev, a senior Russian security official, accused Finnish leaders of “seeking confrontation” with Moscow.  

Valtonen disputed the characterization of her country as in any way aggressive toward its eastern neighbor. 

“We are not here to provoke anybody,” Valtonen said. “Russia does not need to feel threatened at all.”

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