10:18 GMT29 February 2020
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    Britain Says 'Cheerio' to EU (463)
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    With Brexit slowly taking shape and becoming a reality, debate on the grim future of the EU has been bubbling in parts of the Europe which were previously regarded as "faithful." Recently, the right-wing populist Finns Party's resolved to hold British-style referendums on both the EU and the euro, sparking outrage across Finland.

    Blue flags carrying the slogan Europe -into the new millenium fly in the front of the Cathedral in Helsinki (file)
    © AFP 2019 / MARKKU ULANDER / LEHTIKUVA
    While the Finns Party Youth League has already been playing with the idea of launching a citizens' initiative to put forth a a EU referendum for some time, recently it became clear that even their senior Finns party colleagues in parliament were actually in favor of the vote. A survey carried out by Finland's national broadcaster Yle disclosed that a clear majority of the Finns Party would like to see a referendum on Helsinki's EU membership and participation in the single currency, which caused an outrage in the pro-EU Finnish media.

    The Finns Party is a populist and nationalist-oriented Finnish political party. Led by their perennial leader Timo Soini, The Finns were in opposition for decades until 2015, when they joined Juha Sipilä's coalition government after becoming the country's second largest party in the 2015 election with 17.1 percent of the votes.

    The Finns Party's long-standing chairman, Foreign Minister Timo Soini, said that the media resentment at the Finns' support for a Helsinki's referendum on EU membership was a violation of the party's freedom of expression.

    "Why are we treated differently? Do other rules apply to us?" Timo Soini asked rhetorically during the political summer event SuomiAreena in Pori. "No one is pushing the Center Party to leave the government on account of the fact that the party's honorary president, Paavo Väyrynen, is also pushing for the euro referendum," Soini said. "And no one is kicking out the Coalition party because of their support for NATO membership, despite the government's line for non-alignment," Soini pointed out.

    Soini also dwelled on the background of his much-debated trip to Great Britain immediately after the Brexit vote.

    "I simply wanted to know what had happened, and why it happened the way it did," Soini told Yle, stressing that the trip was completely paid for by his party and did not inflict either the Foreign Ministry or Finnish taxpayers any damage.

    According to Soini, "divorce negotiations" between Britain and the EU should not be dominated by jealousy, resentment or malice.

    "We must minimize any possible damage and ensure a solution that will benefit everyone," Soini said.

    Finland's theoretical exit from the EU would inevitably entail difficulties with the Swedish-speaking region of Åland, which currently enjoys one of the broadest autonomies imaginable, yet continues to push for full independence. For Soini's fellow Finns Party members, this is no problem at all.

    "If Åland breaks out, it would be an economic victory for Finland, as we pump large sums of money into payoffs for the islanders," Toimi Kankaaniemi of the Finns Party said, apparently believing that Finland's EU membership is short-lived.

    Both Soini and Kankaaniemi expressed criticism of the former government, who joined the Eurozone without holding a referendum, which is the common practice in the Nordic region. Soini and the Finns also complained that the Finland's constitution explicitly said that Finland is a member of the EU.

    In the aftermath of Brexit, a petition for a UK-style popular vote was launched by the Finns party's youth wing leader Sebastian Tynkkynen. So far, the petition has harvested over 27,000 signatures. Remarkably, the far-right populist Finns Party leader and current Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who a decade ago ran for presidency with a slogan "Where there is the EU, there is a problem," earlier made it clear that no Fixit vote would be held under the current government.

    In April, Finnish lawmakers held a rare debate on whether the Nordic country should quit the euro after 53,000 people signed a petition by former PM and long-standing EU critic Paavo Väyrynen, former figurehead of the Center Party.

    Finland, which has a population of about 5.5 million and consistently ranks as one of the world's most developed countries, is the only Nordic nation to use euros, has never been a member of NATO, and shares the longest border with Russia of any European country which was not a member of the Warsaw Pact. It was originally an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, but declared its sovereignty following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

    The Finns Party, which is still known in Finnish and Swedish as the "True Finns Party," gained in prominence in the wake of last year's massive influx of refugees, on the platform that immigration to Finland from outside the EU should be permitted only in cases where it brings economic advantage. It also believes that certain EU immigrants are unwelcome, such as Roma (gypsies), whom it brands as 'criminals,' according to the BBC. The party believes social services and health care should be primarily reserved for ethnic Finns. In 2015 the party joined the current government coalition.

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    Britain Says 'Cheerio' to EU (463)

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    European Union, referendum, Brexit, Paavo Vayrynen, Timo Soini, Aland Islands, Scandinavia, Finland
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