Timo Soini of the Finns Party and Nigel Farage of the UKIP participated in a seminar on the European Union in Helsinki in early 2011.The decision of the Finns Party to abandon the European Freedom and Democracy (EFD) in favour of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) bloc in the European Parliament threatens to frustrate the aspirations of European right-wing populists.

In addition to the Finnish opposition party, the Danish People's Party on Thursday defected to the ECR.

The exodus may be an indication of unexpected difficulties in the negotiations between Eurosceptic parties over the establishment of a new pan-European political bloc, estimates Erkka Railo, the executive director at the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku.

“Small parties are important, because a representative from seven countries is needed to establish a parliamentary group. This undermines the efforts of the French National Front and the UKIP [UK Independence Party] to form the bloc,” Railo explains.

Tapio Raunio, a professor of political science at the University of Tampere, considers the decision of the Finns Party to abandon its long-standing ally “extremely interesting”. According to him, the decision signals the willingness of the Finns Party to distance itself from smaller and more nationalist parties and to edge closer to larger Eurosceptic parties.

The decision, he also gauges, was definitely influenced by the upcoming parliamentary elections in Finland.

On the other hand, the decision to forsake the UKIP was not a particular surprise. “It's a one-issue party seeking an exit from the EU. The Finns Party doesn't advocate a Finnish exit from the EU or even from the euro,” Raunio reminds.

Railo similarly believes the Finnish opposition party made the right choice. “The ECR has so far been a relatively respected bloc with a clear manifesto. The previous group [the EFD] was very disorderly.”

Although the influence of the Finns Party in the new bloc cannot be evaluated until a few years' time, the preconditions are today better than they were five years ago – particularly because the two largest blocs have both since lost seats, Raunio points out. “Especially if no coalition is formed between these two, the EPP may seek support from the liberals and if necessary also from the ECR. Thereby, it seems possible that the power of the Finns Party could increase.”

Railo, in turn, reminds that the influence of the Finns Party can deteriorate, if it fails to integrate into its new bloc. “Being alone among bigger parties can make you feel quite forlorn,” he says.

Paavo Teittinen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Pekka Elomaa