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25th Jun 2018

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Finnish nationalist MP stirs immigration debate

  • Several locals expressed concern about the aggressive mood in the town of Lieksa following Halla-aho’s visit. (Photo: timonenko)

The nationalist Finns' party is fighting to increase its vote in the European Parliament May elections.

Current estimates give the party 15 percent support which is significantly higher than the 9 percent it received during the previous European elections but lower than the 18 percent it scores in polls for next year’s national parliamentary elections.

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One obvious reason for the wavering support is that party chair MP Timo Soini is not running. This leaves just a few well-known names on the Finns’ MEP candidate list.

One candidate likely to garner plenty of support for the party is MP Jussi Halla-aho.

Halla-aho, who was amply quoted in the manifesto of far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, uses the slogan 'A Finnish Finland in a European Europe'.

The slogan also figures in the political platform of Suomen Sisu, an organisation with strong ties to Finnish neo-fascism.

Currently at least two members of The Finns parliamentary group are members of Suomen Sisu, including Halla-aho himself. Several more have been previously affiliated with it.

While most parties are relatively quiet on the issue of immigration, Halla-aho has been stirring the debate.

During a talk in mid-February in the small town of Lieksa he came into heated argument with some local immigrants, who found that his speech "on the problems and costs of immigration" stoked feelings of fear and hate in the local community.

Lieksa has featured in headlines in recent years due to violent attacks on the town's small immigrant population.

"Problems do not arise when somebody says inconsiderate or nasty things to immigrants. The problem is that some immigrant groups have created, through their own actions, very negative stereotypes for themselves," Halla-aho said, according to local newspaper Karjalainen.

Several Lieksa locals expressed concern about the aggressive mood in the town following Halla-aho’s visit.

"I'm afraid there will be acts of violence or vandalism against immigrants. I also worry for the safety of our employees," Ari Marjeta, chair of the city council in Lieksa, said.

But despite Halla-aho's efforts it seems unlikely that immigration will top The Finns' agenda for the May EU elections. Of the other Finns candidates, only Simon Elo and former Suomen Sisu member Juha Eerola mention immigration as an election issue.

Instead the main focus is likely to be issues concerning the eurozone.

In early February Soini reinforced The Finns’ candidate list with Toimi Kankaanniemi, a famous eurosceptic and former Christian Democrat MP.

Kankaanniemi, who became a member of The Finns last year, announced his candidacy by saying he wants a "Europe-wide free trade area to replace the EU".

The article previously said Simon Elo was a member of Suomen Sisu. This is not the case.

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Finland's centre-right National Coalition Party will later this month decide who becomes chair of the party and the country's PM. Alexander Stubb is one of the forerunners.

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