Sunday

28th May 2017

Focus

The populist Finns, Cameron's new political bedfellows

  • Party chair Timo Soini moving The Finns towards becoming a mainstream party (Photo: Mikael Brunila)

As UK prime minister David Cameron's Conservatives set about reforming the anti-federalist European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group in the European Parliament, the spotlight has fallen on their new allies.

In a bid to obtain the required 25 MEPs from seven member states, the group is enlarging to take on two deputies from Finland's populist Finns party.

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"The acceptance of the Finns, along with the Danish People's Party, into the ECR has been primarily seen as an important strategic move by the British Conservatives to isolate Ukip in the European Parliament," says Jemima Repo, political scientist at the university of Helsinki.

"It means a stronger eurosceptic agenda for the ECR and the Conservatives, and it groups the Finns with a more traditional and respectable right, distancing them from a more far-right and xenophobic profile," she adds.

Of the two Finns' deputies Sampo Terho and Jussi Halla-aho, it is the latter who is the more controversial.

The original political home of Halla-aho is Suomen Sisu, an organisation that has been instrumental in popularising anti-immigration themes in Finland and has throughout its history displayed strong connections to Finnish neo-fascist intelligentsia.

"While Suomen Sisu denies being racist, its goals have roots in fascist ideology – including the idea of defending the language, identity and social order of a given, 'organic' community," says Repo.

Halla-aho came to the attention of the wider Finnish public in 2008 when he was elected to Helsinki's municipal parliament.

Originally an independent candidate on the Finns party lists, Halla-aho has since become a party member and second only in popularity to party chair Timo Soini in almost every Finnish election since 2008.

Although his entrance into the public eye appeared sudden, Halla-aho had built up popular support for almost ten years.

Since 2003 he has a growing following with his blog scripta, decorated with the tagline 'writings from the sinking West'.

By 2008, the blog had become so popular that its guestbook was expanded into and replaced by the website 'homma', a forum for the self-titled movement of 'immigration critics' that had emerged around scripta and similar blogs.

"Halla-aho gained a wide following through his blog and became the personification and symbol of the movement of 'immigration critics'," says Erkka Railo, senior lecturer at the centre for parliamentary studies at the university of Turku.

Scripta also made Halla-aho famous abroad among writers with similar political views.

The iconic islamophobic and counterjihadist blog 'gates of Vienna' included Halla-aho for years among its extended circle of contributors and translators.

"It is a small victory for the Finns to be included in a respectable group like the ECR. For the ECR the whole scenario makes sense only if the Finns commit themselves to some kind of group discipline or a common programme in the European parliament," says Railo.

For his part, Halla-aho was unavailable for comment.

However his future colleague, Syed Kamall, chair of the ECR and himself a muslim, says the group is satisfied with Hallo-aho's views on Islam.

"I was satisfied by his explanation. Once again we are looking to parties that are looking to reform, we are looking for people … we don’t look at their past, we want to look at where we're moving forward. They want to be a mainstream party and we are happy to help with that," said Kamall, reports Finnish broadcaster YLE.

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In Finland the European elections will be about Greece, at least if Timo Soini, chair of the radical right-wing populist party The Finns, previously known as the True Finns, gets his way.

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