Combating terrorism is the key issue that Finns want discussed ahead of the next European Parliament elections, according to the European Commission's latest Eurobarometer survey released on Wednesday. The next EU-wide election is to be held a year from now.
Fifty-eight percent of Finns polled said that the fight against terrorism should be the most important election theme. Only in France was there more concern about terrorism, with 60 percent saying it is the most crucial issue.
Throughout the EU, nearly half of citizens said that terrorism should be part of the electoral debate – a sharp rise from the survey before the 2014 European Parliament elections, when less than seven percent of Europeans polled saw terrorism as an important electoral issue.
"Anti-immigration political mood"
Juhana Aunesluoma, research director at the University of Helsinki’s Centre for European Studies, believes that the Finnish result is partly due to last August’s stabbing attack in Turku, which was prominently-discussed at the time that the survey was carried out.
A young Moroccan man whose asylum application had been rejected has admitted to the attack, which left two women dead and eight other people injured. A court is to decide soon whether he had a terrorist intent.
"The fight against terrorism is seen as important in many countries where there are strongly anti-immigration political mood, such as the Czech Republic and Poland,” notes Aunesluoma. “Many people mentally associate terrorism with Islamist jihadism, although there are other forms of terrorism, too,” he adds.
Meanwhile, he points out that "in Greece, for instance, economic growth is considered much more important,” with 81 percent of respondents citing it as a key topic.
Climate, environment crucial for Finns
Finland differs from the European mainstream in that more than half of respondents (53%) see climate and environmental protection as important election themes.
Across the EU, the corresponding figure was only 35 percent. The only countries where people see environmental questions as important were Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The European Parliament has the direct power to create legislation on environmental and climate issues, but Aunesluoma does not believe that this plays a role in the survey results.
"This is more to do with the kinds of questions that people believe should be on the European political agenda. That’s why terrorism, environmental policy, climate and economic growth show up,” he says.
Fifty-one percent of Finns surveyed saw defence and security policy as important, compared to 29 percent of Europeans overall. However this is an area where the European Parliament does not have the power to directly legislate. On youth employment and immigration, Finns were close to the EU’s average levels of concern, at 49 and 41 percent respectively.
Election enthusiasm remains low
The survey does not give much hope for higher voter turnout in next May’s European Parliament elections.
According to the Eurobarometer, 35 percent of Finns said it was “highly likely” that they would vote in next year’s election, slightly higher than the EU average of 31 percent.
In the 2014 election, 43 percent of eligible European voters cast ballots – and even fewer in Finland, where just 39 percent voted.
Some 27,600 EU citizens were interviewed for the Eurobarometer in early April. Just over 1,000 of them were Finns.