Finnish MPs voted 128 to 37 on Tuesday to rearrange their seating arrangements. The radical right Finns Party will henceforth be positioned on the right hand flank of the legislature, in a move that was staunchly opposed by their MPs.
The Swedish People’s Party had requested a switch to a more central position so that they could more easily access translation services, necessitating the Finns Party’s move.
The office of the speaker had approved the new arrangements, but with opposition from the Finns Party fierce the measure was put to a vote on Tuesday after a motion from group leader Ville Tavio to retain the current seating arrangement.
“You won’t shut us up by moving us to the far right,” said Juha Mäenpää, a Finns Party MP.
Far-right or not far-right?
His intervention distilled the substance of the complaint: that the Finns Party should not be regarded as a far right party. Finnish media have tended to eschew that term for the party, but international outlets including the BBC and AFP have used it.
Several Finns Party MPs including the leader have been convicted of incitement to ethnic hatred, while others have been criticised for attending events with neo-Nazi activists. In 2015 Oulu MP Olli Immonen shared a picture from a memorial event where he posed with members of the now-banned Nordic Resistance Movement, an extremist group many of whose members have been convicted of racist violence.
With one eye on upcoming European elections, Finns Party MPs ranged far and wide in their topics for discussion, talking about immigration and old age care home staffing in addition to the matter at hand.
SDP group leader Antti Lindtman was bemused at the row.
“If a place to the right of the National Coalition is okay in the European Parliament and in the Nordic Council is okay for the party, then why is it unacceptable here?” he asked rhetorically.