Finnish Populists Push Premier to Weigh Coalition's Future

Updated on
  • The Finns party elected hardliner Halla-aho as chairman
  • Prime minister calls meeting to decide if cabinet can function

The days of Finland’s government may be numbered.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila called a meeting for Monday to determine whether the coalition has a future after The Finns -- a euro-skeptic, anti-immigration group that shares power with two establishment parties -- elected hard-liner Jussi Halla-aho as their leader. While Sipila ruled out snap elections, he said he has considered several possible configurations for the government, rejecting Halla-aho’s calls for major policy shifts.

“We’re going to have a discussion on values,” the prime minister said in an interview on YLE Radio Suomi on Sunday. “We cannot have several approaches to European Union matters -- we need one government stance. That also includes immigration questions.”

Jussi Halla-aho on June 10.

Photographer: Jussi Nukari/AFP via Getty Images

A member of the European Parliament, Halla-aho, 46, was fined in 2012 for incitement against an ethnic group after making anti-Muslim statements on his blog. His extremist views and demands to crack down on immigration are likely to be hard to embrace for the Center and National Coalition parties that form the bulk of the governing coalition.

Halla-aho defeated Sampo Terho by 949-629 at The Finns party congress Saturday. The winner succeeds Timo Soini, who is stepping down after 20 years leading the group.

“We must not stay in government no matter what,” Halla-aho told reporters after the vote. “The Finns party must focus more aggressively on issues that unite our supporters and separate us from other parties,” he said, referring to its stricter views on immigration and anti-euro stance. 

The Finns party first joined a ruling coalition in 2015, reaching power amid an economic downturn and during the biggest inflow of asylum seekers in Finnish history. Its failure to deliver on much of its agenda -- including key pledges such as eliminating taxes on cars -- has been eroding its support.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said by phone Saturday that said he hoped the matter of the government’s future could be resolved this week. The talks could delay a revamp of social and health-care policies and municipal reforms seen as key to easing pressure caused by a rapidly aging population.

If the coalition collapses, Sipila’s Center Party and Orpo’s National Coalition would probably try to form a new government. In that case, they would likely need to make major concessions to entice one or several opposition parties to join them.

“Commitment to the government’s program is of foremost importance,” Orpo said. “It says for instance that Finland is open and international, rich in languages and cultures -- these types of issues are what government cooperation is based on.”

— With assistance by Katia Porzecanski

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