Brexit Mess Scares Finns Away From EU Referendum Many Had Sought

Britain’s decision to quit the European Union was all it took to terrify Finnish voters, with more than two-thirds now affirming their loyalty to the bloc.

A poll published on Thursday indicates a stunning shift in sentiment in Finland, the Nordic region’s only euro member. The Iltalehti poll shows that 69 percent of Finns don’t want a British style in-out vote. And if a referendum on EU membership were held, 68 percent would vote to stay.

“Brexit seems to have had a strong impact on Finnish attitudes toward the EU,” said Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “Brexit has, in a concrete way, questioned the integrity of the EU for the first time.” For Finland, the result is that voters are now “seeking safety” in the status quo, he said.

The poll, which carries a margin of error of 2.5 points, was conducted on June 28-29, just as Britain descended into political chaos and EU leaders met to discuss the fallout across the continent. Before the June referendum, Finland’s electorate had been more evenly split. In a March poll by Helsingin Sanomat, 43 percent of voting Finns wanted a referendum, with only 56 percent of the electorate wanting to stay in the EU.

The latest polls haven’t stopped the youth wing of the nationalist Finns Party from organizing a petition demanding such a referendum. However, less than half of the required 50,000 signatures have been collected since it was launched on June 20, according to Finland’s Citizens Initiative Service.

The development suggests that, far from unleashing a populist wave, Brexit appears to have given European citizens some pause. In Spain, voters on Sunday shied away from anti-establishment parties like Podemos and threw their weight behind caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

With a 1,340-kilometer (833 miles) joint border with Russia, Finland has relied on its EU membership to shield it from an increasingly antagonistic neighbor. Though the country’s economic plight -- unemployment is more than 10 percent after three years of GDP contraction -- has led some to question euro membership, the majority of Finns have remained loyal to the single currency.

Even the man behind the so-called "Fixit" push, former Foreign Minister Paavo Vayrynen, concedes his country is unlikely to re-introduce the markka any time soon. The government, which is run by a self-made millionaire eager to reform the economy, has been unequivocal about its support for the EU. After the Brexit result was announced, Prime Minister Juha Sipila was quick to tweet that "the EU project goes on."

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