The Finns Party MEP Jussi Halla-aho, who rose to prominence thanks to his extensive online writings critical of immigration and Islam, is now part of a parliamentary caucus led by a Muslim. He says that does not bother him at all.
“Maybe this is a bigger thing for you than for me,” answered Halla-aho when an Yle journalist asked about his new leader.
Halla-aho said that the group had asked for a translation of the text for which he had been convicted.
“They wondered a little bit about how something like this could have brought a conviction,” said Halla-aho. “There they understood pretty well what the point of the text was.”
"I looked him in the eye"
Halla-aho claims that his interest in Islam is focused on the problems caused by fundamentalists.
“It would be naïve to imagine that religious fundamentalism is not these days a particularly typical problem for Islam,” said Halla-aho.
Halla-aho is now a member of the ECR group led by the British Conservative Syed Kamall. The London MEP was elected leader of the ECR on Thursday, and is familiar with Halla-aho’s work.
“I sat down with him when I saw that issue reported, I looked him in the eye and I said ’tell me about this’,” said Kamall.
"Zero tolerance" for racism
“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.”
The ECR group has another British Muslim, Sajjad Karim. He is the group’s candidate to lead the European Commission, and promises a zero tolerance approach to racism.
“We don’t accept any kind of racism or hate speech,” said Karim, who said any such actions would lead to sanctions.
The Finns Party’s choice of grouping has raised some eyebrows, as the party has been regarded as positive about the welfare state and might not sit comfortably with conservative liberals who advocate for a smaller state.