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Finnish parties unveil EU election candidates, Soini quits politics

A number of newly-elected Finnish MPs say they will also run for European Parliament seats.

EU-parlamentin rakennus Strasbourgissa.
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Image: AOP

Finland's main political parties released their full lists of candidates for next month's European Parliament election. They include quite a few politicians who were just elected to the Finnish legislature this week. If elected to both bodies, they will have to pick one, leaving the other seat open to be filled by a runner-up deputy from their own party.

The number of so-called 'double candidates' indicates that the parties have had difficulties attracting enough candidates for the back-to-back elections, says University of Helsinki political science researcher Antti Ronkainen.

Kerfuffle at Finns Party press event

Thursday was the deadline for Europarliamentary candidates to announce their intentions. One of the biggest remaining question marks was whether outgoing foreign minister Timo Soini would seek a seat in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Soini co-founded the nationalist Finns Party, the second largest bloc in the new Finnish Parliament, but left the party two years to join the breakaway Blue Reform party – which did not win a single seat in last weekend's election. The party has vowed to press ahead anyway, but suffered a blow as Soini announced in a Thursday blog post that he is leaving politics.

Three other former Blues ministers, Sampo Terho, Jari Lindström and Jussi Niinistö, have also said they will not run, while two former Blues MPs, Ari Jalonen and Kari Kulmala, will seek European seats along with seven other candidates.

The Finns Party revealed its roster of candidates, headed by deputy chair and MP Laura Huhtasaari. The rest of the list includes current MEP Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner, two newly-elected MPs convicted of hate speech, Teuvo Hakkarainen and Sebastian Tynkkynen, as well as Mika Raatikainen, who just lost his seat in the Finnish Parliament after one term. He originally got that seat by replacing party chair Jussi Halla-aho, another convicted hate speech offender, when the latter opted to join the European Parliament in 2014.

At a press conference announcing the party's candidates on Thursday, a Helsingin Sanomat reporter asked Halla-aho about the old blog posts that earned him that conviction. Social Democratic Party chair Antti Rinne, who is beginning efforts to form a new government, cited the anti-immigrant posts twice this week as a potential obstacle to government cooperation between the SDP and the Finns Party. Halla-aho, however, refused to answer the journalist's question, ordering a staffer to take the microphone away from him and moving on to the next question.

Veteran politicians and young hopefuls

Leading the Social Democratic list are incumbent MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, former finance minister Eero Heinäluoma, along with former MP Satu Taavitsainen, Helsinki city councillor 'Husu' Hussein and SDP youth wing chair and Rovaniemi city councillor Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi.

Candidates from outgoing prime minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party include Mauri Pekkarinen and Pekka Puska, who have both just left Parliament, current MEPs Elsi Katainen and Mirja Vehkaperä, as well as Jouni Kemppainen, editor in chief of the rural newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus and former news chief at Yle.

The best-known Christian Democratic Party candidate is party chair, MP and former world-champion race walker Sari Essayah. Others include MP Peter Östman and party secretary Asmo Maanselkä.

Essayah says that if she is elected to the European Parliament, she will return as an MEP during Finland's EU Presidency term in the second half of this year and then switch back to the Helsinki legislature. However if the small party is included in the next government coalition and she is offered a ministerial portfolio, she would then give up her MEP seat.

The conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) announced its candidates earlier. Among them: present MEPs Sirpa Pietikäinen, Petri Sarvamaa and Henna Virkkunen, as well as another former government minister, Kimmo Sasi and ex-MEP Eija-Riitta Korhola.

The main Green candidates are MEP Heidi Hautala and former environment minister Ville Niinistö. Among the others is Iiris Suomela, who was just elected as Finland's youngest MP.

On the Left Alliance candidate list are Hanna Sarkkinen, newly re-elected as an MP, and Silvia Modig, who this week lost her seat in Helsinki, as well as current MEP and ex-transport minister Merja Kyllönen. She too is a newly-elected MP who says she does not intend to return to Brussels even if she wins – apparently aiming to gather votes for the party to help fellow candidates vying for an EU seat.

Meanwhile the small Swedish People's Party's best-known candidate is MEP and former presidential candidate and journalist Nils Torvalds.

14th candidate may hang in limbo pending Brexit

The European Parliament election is held in all EU member states between 23-26 May, in Finland on Sunday 26 May. Advance voting is available for European citizens in Finland 15-21 May and for Finns abroad 15-18 May. Finns abroad may also now vote by mail-in absentee ballot.

As it now appears that Britain will take part in the European election, Finns will elect 13 MEPs as before. However if the UK does eventually leave the EU, the candidate with the 14th-highest vote tally would then take Finland's new 14th seat in Brussels and Strasbourg. However it could take many months before the eventual size of the Finnish delegation is finalised.

The European Parliament now has 751 MEPs with 73 from Britain. If the UK leaves the union, 27 of its seats will be distributed to other countries and 46 left empty. Finland was among those arguing that the extra seats should not be distributed, but that the legislature should simply be shrunk in size in the event of Brexit.

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