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Gains of True Finn party point to 'Euroskeptic' surge in Finland

Major gains by the nationalistic and socially conservative True Finn party are reshaping Finland's political landscape – and bringing skepticism about European Union values to the fore.

By / Correspondent / May 17, 2011

True Finn's party secretary who coordinates its political activities, Ossi Sandvik, is pictured standing in the group's Helsinki office.

Fred Weir/The Christian Science Monitor

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Helsinki, Finland

Some call it a political earthquake that, in a single election, reshaped the landscape of Finland and put the European Union on notice that its days may be numbered.

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A country of 5.3 million people tucked into Europe's forested northeast corner, Finland has been thought of as a well-adjusted EU member. But leaders of the insurgent True Finn party, which rocketed out of obscurity to win third place in parliamentary polls last month, say 16 years of membership in the "United States of Europe" has allowed Brussels bureaucrats to usurp Finnish sovereignty.

"Finns have been tolerant for too long, and now they've had enough," says True Finn party secretary Ossi Sandvik. "Finns don't go into the streets; they express their frustrations at the ballot box. Now the people have spoken, and changes must follow."

The True Finns blend nationalism and social conservatism with a left-wing populism that defies easy categorization. Tea party­ers might nod approvingly at some items in the True Finn charter, which identifies Christianity as a hallmark of Fin­nish­ness and rails against free immigration, easy abortion, same-sex marriage, and the "Islamization" of Europe.

One in 5 Finnish voters backed the True Finns and their charismatic leader, Timo Soini, reacting mainly against the rising cost of bailing out crisis-hit eurozone members like Greece and Portugal. But other resentments also emerged, including some Finns' anger over the influx of outsiders under the EU's open-border system and the consequent erosion of what True Finn leaders call "Finnish values." At the very least, the True Finns, which opted to go into opposition after other major parties backed the Portugal bailout, have brought "euroskepticism" roaring into the political mainstream.

Since Finland is the only EU country that requires parliamentary approval for participation in bailouts, and any such EU decision must be unanimous, the sudden surge of the True Finns is giving EU boosters a major headache and may have thrown Finland's support for future rescue packages into doubt.

"Greece and Port­ugal have been wasteful and dishonest, and Finns resent these demands to give them more money," says Simon Elo, head of the True Finns youth movement, which has been inundated with applications to join since the election success.

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