Monday, April 18, 2011

Finland and Portugal on collision course from opposite ends of the EU

The gentleman on the right is currently Portugal's public enemy number one. His name is Timo Soini and he lives 3,000 kilometres away, in Finland.

Few people in Portugal knew much about Finland, even less about Timo Soini, before they very recently emerged as potential wreckers of this country's economic future. Everyone associates Finland with reindeers and they in turn are often linked to expressions of goodwill and generosity of spirit. Those don't seem to be obvious characteristics of Timo Soini. He's into antlers, though.

As founder and current leader of the anti-euro True Finns political party that did remarkably well in Finland's general election yesterday, 48-year-old Soini has pledged to do everything he can to stop Portugal getting the EU bailout it so desperately needs.

Portugal's request for help became a central issue in the final days of the election campaign. Finland is the only eurozone country in which bailouts have to be approved by the national parliament.

Having more than quadrupled its share of the vote, Soini and his True Finns party hope to be part of Finland's next coalition government. That could complicate if not quash Finland's traditional pro-EU stance.

Meanwhile, representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are already in Lisbon to set the terms for a bailout, the third after Greece and Ireland.

They will be getting down to the nitty-gritty this week to draw up a radical economic reform plan, which is expected to include privatisations, changes in the labour market and steps to shore up wobbly banks. By the middle of next month they should have a comprehensive blueprint.

To be implemented, this must first be unanimously approved by all 17 eurozone members, including Finland. Frustration in EU countries about footing the bill for weaker economies is not confined to Finland, of course. A couple of weeks ago when it looked like British taxpayers might have to put their hands in their pockets to help Portugal, many of them openly moaned – and Britain is supposed to be Portugal oldest ally!

However grudgingly, the other EU countries will back Portugal's rescue package. Finland is the only doubtful one. Timo Soini is hoping to scupper the deal.

The True Finns, right-wing, anti-immigration nationalists, are now the third largest party in Finland. The second largest party, the Social Democrats, aren't keen on bailouts either. If these two parties unite to out-vote the largest parliamentary group, the National Coalition Party (NCP), Europe's single currency could be plunged into a new crisis.

Finland is way up there next to Sweden, Norway and Russia where the sun don't shine - not much anyway. It is the EU's most sparsely populated country with less than five and a half million people, but they are among the most economically competitive and socially advanced and contented people on the planet.

True Finns don't have much time for under-performing, lesser mortals down in the far south. They expect the EU to change its plans about rescuing Portugal.

"The party is over," says Soihi. "Why should Finland bail anyone out? We won't hand over more Finnish money to be burned in the fire."

That sounds sort of final, but there is another more hopeful scenario. The True Finns are expected to join talks this week on forming a coalition with the NCP. But they may only be accepted into a new coalition government if they agree to compromise on certain EU issues, including Portugal's bailout request. If they do not agree to compromise, the NCP will try to build a consensus without them and Finland's pro-euro stance may prevail.

Viewed from down here in the sunny south, it's all a bit iffy.


  1. "Finland is way up there next to Sweden, Norway and Russia where the sun don't shine - not much anyway. It is the EU's most sparsely populated country with less than five and a half million people, but they are among the most economically competitive and socially advanced and contented people on the planet."

    Poor, dark and lonely Finland :D .
    But there is one thing we have always done; paid our debts. The hard way.
    Nobody helped Finland in the 90´s, 15 000 suicides and we paid everybody, every penny.
    As we did after WWII as the only country in the wolrd.

    Paying someone else´s debts is not acceptable in our culture. Our own we have always paid.
    Something you in the sunny south could learn also.

    True Finns are left of the center and not a right wing party at all.

  2. Dear anonymous Finn,
    In this time of crisis here in Portugal we could do with a helping hand from "poor, dark and lonely Finland", no we don't want your money! its worthless anyway. The sunshine we have is worth a lot more and we surely don't mind sharing with the people of Finland, well the True Finns.

    So if you really want to help Portugal and all the European countries that are experiencing this engineered economic crises created by the bankers to rob them of their sovereignty then PLEASE VETO the bail out of Portugal.

    Hand in my heart I do hope Finland blocks these thieves called IMF from creating even more debt than what Portugal has already.

    And I do hope you can visit sunny Portugal one day and have some of this wonderful red wine.