An informal Yle survey of Finns Party MPs found a majority of those reached backed the idea of organising an EU membership referendum similar to the recent Brexit vote in the UK.
Over the years the populist party has made no secret of its opposition to the European Union and the eurozone. Since voters in the UK opted to leave the union in a referendum earlier this month, exiters in Finland – and especially the Eurosceptic Finns Party – have been emboldened, with many calling for a similar ballot.
Brexit vote momentum
In a post-Brexit discussion on an Yle current affairs programme, Finns Party parliamentary group leader Sampo Terho said that a similar vote would be "a realistic option" for Finland and MEP Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner told the daily Helsingin Sanomat that a popular vote was possible in Finland. Party leader Timo Soini also raised eyebrows in Finland when he traveled to Britain shortly after the UK vote to meet with prominent Brexit supporters.
Meanwhile the party’s youth wing began to clamour for a mirror vote, and youth wing leader Sebastian Tynkkynen wasted no time setting up a citizen’s initiative calling for a referendum. By Tuesday, some 27,000 voters had signed up to support the motion.
Yle’s survey interviewed all of the party’s MPs about their views on referenda on EU and eurozone membership. A clear majority – 19 of the 26 contacted – said that they would like to see a referendum on EU membership. Four opposed the idea, two could not say and one was still on the fence over the matter. Yle was unable to reach 11 of the party’s 37 MPs, including chair Timo Soini and ministers Hanna Mäntylä and Jussi Niinistö.
However the MPs said that there was no urgency about organizing a popular vote. Nearly all of the 26 said they would adopt a wait-and-see approach to observe possible fall-out from the UK’s decision to withdraw from the union, and to see what reforms the EU might adopt.
"The Finns Party has never held the view that the EU or the euro are permanent and unchangeable. They are the creations of people that can and should be critiqued. Following the UK vote the European Union should be fixed and once that is done we will see what kind of EU we will vote on," said MP Ari Jalonen.
Fast track for vote on eurozone membership
While Finns Party MPs said they are willing to hang back to see what happens post-Brexit, they expressed a greater readiness to get on with a referendum on whether or not to keep the euro. Most of the MPs surveyed – 19 – said that Finns should be invited to the polls to vote on the issue, while two opposed the idea. Four had not yet made up their minds and one declined to offer an opinion.
"We could organise a referendum on the euro soon, because the countries outside of the monetary union are faring better," remarked MP Juho Eerola.
Another MP, Mika Niikko, said he supported the idea of a euro referendum. He called for the current government to examine the impact of giving up the common currency.
Reticence on referendum on election platform
Although the Finns Party’s Eurosceptic stance is well known, it is in bed with two government partners who are not at all keen on euro or EU referenda during their term in office – Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party, and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo’s centre-right National Coalition Party. Sipilä has also said that the three coalition parties share the same view on the referendum question.
However several Finns Party MPs said they hoped to see the referendum issue form a major plank of the party’s election manifesto during the next general election due in 2019.
The party will only finalise its campaign theme in the next couple of years. According to Soini party grandees will begin strategising on the election manifesto at the end of 2018 in time for the election the following spring.
It is likely hoping that an emphasis on a referendum could help attract voters who have abandoned the party, steadily eroding its popularity in various party approval polls.
However a recent poll by the tabloid daily Iltalehti found that Finns have little appetite for the kind of divisive membership referendum and campaign that took place in the UK. In that poll, 69 percent of respondents opposed a referendum, while 68 percent said they would vote to remain in the EU and 70 percent said they would support continuing eurozone membership.