Helsinki (24.04.2011 - Juhani Artto) The rise of the True Finns as a political force in the April 17 Parliamentary election is by far the greatest and most overwhelming change to affect the Finnish political scene in over 60 years. The True Finns gained an astonishing 34 new seats in the 200 seat parliament, bringing their total to 39 (they held 5 seats during the last parliament). All other parties lost seats except for the tiny party of Swedish-speaking Finns. The huge advances made by the True Finns almost certainly means that it will be part of the new government, as one of its major forces, and thus have real influence on the political decisions to be made in government and in Parliament.
What will it mean for working people and trade unions representing them?
In many foreign commentaries the True Finns have been characterized as a party of xenophobic, nationalist, anti-EU, populist and extreme right-wing people, but, in my view, it is a bit too early to make such a sweeping judgement. There are indeed grounds for applying such labels but they may also serve to create wrong or distorted images among people who are not well aware of how Finnish society functions.
The True Finns definitely has a nationalist and anti-EU line and many of the newly elected MPs represent similar anti-immigrant demands as the extreme-right groups in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. There are also "law and order" and militaristic tendencies within the party. Moreover, the True Finns clearly represent conservative values as opposed to liberal values. And as for the populism - the party's leader, Timo Soini, is famous for his speaking abilities, skilled in the art of rhetoric…of a kind that especially appeals to the man-in-the-street.
All this provides good and compelling reasons for labelling the True Finns an extreme right-wing party but in reality this does not present the true or full picture when it comes to this party’s support among the electorate. In Finland, the traditional way to categorise parties on the right-left spectrum has partly lost its relevance.
When thinking in terms of traditional leftist demands the True Finns may come to play a positive role in decisions that defend social and economic equality (taxation, social security etc.), improve employment opportunities and fight the expanding grey or black economy. Leaders of Finnish industry have commented on the election results that they are not afraid of the True Finns except for their EU policy.
What happens next?
Tight financial restraints inhibit the raising of living standards for low-income people. The budget deficit is not as bad as in many other EU Member States in Western Europe but still calls for either more taxes or expenditure cuts or a combination of both. And this allows little space for making good on populist promises in regard to social justice – clearly a predicament facing the parties that form the next majority government.
In the past this kind of set-up became the stumbling block of both Communists and the Rural Party, which is the predecessor of the True Finns. Once in government, both approved compromises that made their supporters lose faith in these parties. The True Finns will go down this same road unless it has truly learned lessons from the past and is able to convincingly explain to its supporters why it now necessary to make compromises with its coalition partners.
The government programme may not yet be critical in this respect but the next budget proposal, due to be approved by the government and announced in August, will give Finns a good and clear idea of where the True Finns really stand: on the side of low-income people and ordinary working Finns or the well off and well-to-do people.
The trade unions have no special reasons to fear or be alarmed by the success of the True Finns. Many small entrepreneurs tilt towards the party and may have anti-union attitudes but the large majority of True Finns' supporters are the same kind of wage and salary earners and pensioners as the supporters of the traditional left parties.