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Europe

Nationalists enjoy surge in support in Finnish elections

An anti-EU party has emerged as the third-largest political force in Finland following Sunday's election, fuelling fears that the "True Finns" might scupper EU efforts to bail out member states.

True Finns party leader Timo Soini

The True Finns enjoyed a significant increase in suport

The nationalist and euroskeptic party True Finns have made big gains in Finland's general election, emerging as the third-largest party.

True Finns party leader Timo Soini has said the party has a "good chance" of playing a role in the next government.

"I am very satisfied. Our work has been supported by the Finnish people," he said following Sunday's election.

The success of the True Finns could resonate throughout the European Union, as the party may disrupt an EU bailout of Portugal should it enter into a new coalition government. Opposition to such rescue packages has been central to the party's campaigning as well have been tougher immigration rules.

"Of course there will have to be changes," said Soini on Monday. "The package that is there - I do not believe it will remain."

Expectations of compromise

National Coaliton leader Jyrki Katainen casting his ballot

Katainen, seen casting his vote, is likely to be the next prime minister

However, the EU's executive, the European Commission, did not expect the election results to affect Finnish EU policy.

"We are fully confident that Finland will continue to honor its committments, and we will be working with Finland in that spirit," said Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde.

Peer Krumrey, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, agreed, stressing that any new government coalition would inevitably be pro-EU.

"I don't see any horse-trading on this issue," he told Deutsche Welle.

"Finnish society is a concensus society: If you decide to be a member of the European Union, you will never block a decision of such importance," Krumrey said. "The government will consist of more than just the True Finns."

Jan Vapaavuori, housing minister and a National Coalition Party member, also dismissed fears of a new euroskeptic government.

The True Finns, he said prior to the election, would probably tone down the rhetoric as a condition of joining the government. The Social Democrats, who are critical of the bailout plan but supportive of the EU, would be even easier to get on board, he said.

"Either it's a pre-condition for them to support Portugal in the next government, or at least not to vote against it," Vapaavuori said. "I'm sure that Finland will be in line with other European countries in the next government."

Historic election

The final election results show that the True Finns party, which in 2007 won only five out of 200 seats in the country's parliament, upped its number of seats to 39.

The True Finns ranked third behind the winning conservative National Coalition Party - whose leader, Jyrki Katainen, is set to become the country's next prime minister - and the second-place opposition Social Democrats.

For the first time ever, the National Coalition emerged as the largest party - benefiting partly from a collapse in support for its senior coalition partner, the Center Party.

"My good friends, we have made history," Katainen told supporters late on Sunday.

The surge in the share of the vote for the True Finns - up to 19 percent from 4.1 percent in 2007 - alters the country's political landscape dramatically, with power traditionally shared between the three main parties.

Debate in the run-up to the elections was dominated by concerns over the country's capacity to cover care costs for its rapidly aging population.

Although Finland managed to rebound from the economic crisis, unemployment remains a hot political issue. Some 8.4 percent of Finns were without a job in February.

Author: Dagmar Breitenbach, Spencer Kimball, Richard Connor (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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