Finland falls out of love with EU

By Matti Huuhtanen

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 5:55 a.m. MDT

In this May 13, 2011 photo Timo Soini, chairman of the True Finns, left, and Finland's Minister of Economy Jyrki Katainen give interviews in Helsinki, Finland before the meeting of the the Grand Committee to debate Finland's stand on the Portugal package. Once a timid and compliant member of the European Union, Finland has become one of its most rebellious. In April elections, the euroskeptic and populist True Finns party _ which has since changed its name to The Finns _ made strong gains in April elections to become the country's third largest political group. Finland's affection for Europe is waning, with a survey showing that satisfaction with the EU has dropped to 37 percent earlier this year from 42 percent in 2005.

Jussi Nukari) FINLAND OUT. NO SALES., AP Photo/Lehtikuva

HELSINKI — Once a timid and compliant member of the European Union, Finland has become one of its most rebellious.

The Finns have made headlines recently by threatening to pull out of a rescue plan for debt-stricken Greece and blocking Romania and Bulgaria from joining Europe's passport-free travel zone.

The Nordic nation's dwindling enthusiasm for European integration challenges the cohesion of the 27-nation bloc as it struggles to tackle the debt crisis.

"Finland is stepping out of line. It's very clearly a new phenomenon," said Jan Sundberg, professor of political science at the University of Helsinki.

The country of 5 million on the EU's northeastern border has traditionally been more pro-EU than Nordic neighbors Denmark and Sweden and is the only country in the region to have adopted the euro as its currency.

But Finland's affection for Europe is waning, with a survey showing that satisfaction with the EU has dropped to 37 percent earlier this year from 42 percent in 2005. Finnish business and policy forum EVA interviewed 1,918 people for the poll in January and February. It had a margin of error of 1-2 percentage points.

In April elections, the euroskeptic and populist True Finns party — which has since changed its name to The Finns — made strong gains in April elections to become the country's third largest political group.

"Finland is seen as a troublemaker now. It's a looming, increasing lack of solidarity with the European project," said Marlene Wind, head of European politics at Copenhagen University. "If this spreads we'll have a huge problem getting Europe back on track."

After the election, Europe watched Finland's government formation talks with grave concern, fearing The Finns would be included and stop Finland's participation in eurozone bailouts for Greece and Portugal.

Conservative Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen in the end formed a coalition government without The Finns, but with four others, including two euroskeptic parties.

In May, Parliament approved Finnish participation in the Portugal bailout on condition that Finland be granted guarantees, or collateral, for its share of any future eurozone loans.

Last month, Finland and Greece announced they had agreed on such guarantees for Finland's share of the Greek bailout but leading eurozone members, including Germany, insisted the 17-member currency union would jointly decide the collateral issue.

They said talks would continue with all eurozone members until a joint solution was reached.

Katainen, who is staunchly pro-EU, worried the collateral issue would tarnish the country's reputation.

"To be honest, this will leave a mark," Katainen said in a radio interview earlier this month. "But I believe it will be temporary and small, if we find a solution to the guarantees that won't upset the stability of the euro and damage other eurozone members."

Nevertheless, he is adamant that Finland will not back down from its collateral demand, or it will opt out of the Greek aid package.

To some extent the shift in attitudes can be traced to Finland's maturity and self-confidence as an independent nation. Through most of its history it's been occupied by its neighbors — for 600 years by Sweden and between 1812 and 1917 by Russia, with which it shares an 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) border.

It walked a precarious tightrope during the Cold War as a neutral country, submitting foreign policy decisions for Kremlin's tacit approval in exchange for its independence.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Finland jumped at the opportunity to cement ties with the West, joining the EU in 1995 after a referendum in which a clear majority — 57 percent — voted in favor of membership.

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