Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) talked to reporters outside his official residence in Helsinki on Friday, 8 March 2024. Orpo told Politico last week that the Finns Party has become more moderate after receiving the opportunity to govern, sparking a backlash from opposition lawmakers in Finland. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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PRIME MINISTER Petteri Orpo (NCP) has come under criticism from opposition lawmakers over his remarks about the Finns Party.

Orpo stated to Politico last week that collaboration with the populist right-wing party has gone well, despite the racism scandals that revolved around the party last summer, and that he has managed to moderate the party by offering it ministerial portfolios.

“In my opinion, they’re not a far-right party any more,” he was quoted saying in the Brussels Playbook, a Politico newsletter about the goings-on in Brussels.

The theory that the opportunity to govern prompts far-right parties to moderate their platforms has been contested, however. Political analysts and scientists have instead identified a two-way process of normalisation, whereby moderation by far-right parties – at least on the surface – has coincided with the adoption of far-right positions and talking points by the centre-right in an attempt to avoid losing votes to parties further, thereby legitimising such views.

Nasima Razmyar, a deputy chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, said Orpo’s argument does not hold water in Finland.

“Orpo stated to the international media that the responsibility to govern has moderated the Finns Party. I doubt that holds water with anyone in our country. The Finns Party and National Coalition have indeed edged closer to one another, but in the direction of the Finns Party,” she commented on X.

Ville Niinistö (Greens), a member of the European Parliament, similarly viewed that it is the Finns Party that has managed to change the conservative wing of the National Coalition.

The views of the prime minister also drew an incredulous response from Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi, the party secretary of the Social Democrats.

“Orpo is about to organise a round-table discussion on equality and non-discrimination. He could first check his own views about his coalition partners. The prime minister is travelling around the world bragging that the Finns Party has become more moderate. That won’t hold water in Finland,” he said.

Johanna Vuorelma, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, said Orpo’s assessment is interesting: “First, Orpo said the Finns Party is not a far-right party any more. This means he used to consider it [a far-right party] but believes the party has changed after receiving the opportunity to govern,” she dissected. “Second, ministerial portfolios were handed out to tame [the party] – where are the signs of taming?”

Orpo talked to Politico about Finland’s goals in the EU at the congress of the European People’s Party (EPP), which was held in Bucharest, Romania, on 6–7 March. Finland, he revealed, would be interested particularly in a security or competitiveness-related portfolio in the next European Commission.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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