Euro Skeptics in Finland Drop Exit Talk as Debt Crisis EasesKati Pohjanpalo
The political group that tripled its support in Finland’s latest election on an anti-euro platform says the northernmost member of the currency bloc can’t exit monetary union on its own.
The Finns, a party that rivals Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen’s National Coalition in commanding support from almost a fifth of Finnish voters, says it’s no longer “realistic” to abandon the currency bloc it blames for the region’s woes.
“I’m not committed to the euro,” party leader Timo Soini said in an interview in Helsinki. “It’s a practical thing to us.” While it was a “bad mistake” to join in the first place, “we can’t leave alone,” he said.
Soini catapulted to popularity in Finland’s 2011 election after lambasting the euro area’s use of bailouts to address imbalances he said were the product of a single currency stretched across disparate economies. Now, amid signs the debt crisis that once threatened to end Europe’s monetary union is easing, one of the region’s most outspoken antagonists is tempering his criticism.
Soini, who in 2011 refused to join Katainen’s six-party coalition even after his voter backing rose threefold, said he no longer opposes maturity extensions on existing bailouts. His party would still vote against new rescue loans, he said.
“Now, if somebody would offer me 10 million euros and give me 100 years to pay it back with an interest rate of 0.1 percent, I would take it,” Soini said. “I think this is more or less how the trick is going to be done.”
The comments come as Finland, the highest-rated euro member, shows signs of buckling under the weight of its own fiscal fetters. The government has said it risks breaching the European Union’s requirement that members limit public debt to 60 percent of gross domestic product as Finland struggles to emerge from its second recession since the crisis hit.
Two in three Finns plan to protest against the EU’s crisis-management policies in May, when the European Parliament holds elections, according to a survey published today by newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
Soini describes the policy decisions made in order to defend the monetary union as a “sin” and the time Europe spends “in purgatory will be long,” he said.
Soini’s efforts to adopt a more moderate tone toward Europe come as his party plots a path out of opposition and into government in 2015 elections.
“We’re willing and ready to join government,” Soini said. “That’s the goal. If I come to the government, we don’t support the bailouts.”
Even while in opposition, Soini has influenced European crisis management. His anti-bailout campaign in the 2011 elections won so much popularity that Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen, a Social Democrat, insisted Finland become the first nation to receive collateral in exchange for backing Greece’s second bailout. Similar terms applied to Spain’s subsequent bank rescue.
Still, Soini says the aid should never have been granted in the first place. “The bailouts are against the EU’s own rules,” he said.