Jussi Halla-aho of the far right Finns Party stated ahead of a party congress on Saturday that Finland should aspire to quit the European Union in the long run, but that for the time being, European solidarity in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine should be a priority.
Halla-aho, who drafted the group’s “Fixit” strategy in 2019, is anticipated to be named as the group’s presidential candidate during the congress. The elections are scheduled to take place in January 2024.
While opinion polls show Halla-aho, a hardliner, is unlikely to win the ballot, his views are influential within the party which is a key ally in Finland’s right-wing government that took office in June.
Over the weekend, the party will hold its annual congress where it will discuss its EU stance in view of the new circumstances of the war in Ukraine and being in government with pro-EU allies.
“It is justified that we aim to leave the EU in the long term,” Halla-aho told Reuters, citing “a democratic deficit” in which the EU limits its member states’ sovereignty.
“But at the same time, of course, we recognize that in the prevailing world situation, a fragmented Western Europe would be much weaker against the threat of totalitarian countries,” he said. The Finns Party supported the country recently joining NATO.
Support for right-wing populism has been on the rise in parts of Europe, as a cost of living crisis fuels discontent with establishment politics and a backlash against the rising costs of a green transition.
So far, however, far-right parties have been mainly junior coalition partners or outright excluded from working with established groups even as some of their agenda items may have nudged centrist politics to the right.
In Finland, the Finns Party has suffered a setback in recent weeks.
First, its economy minister Vilhelm Junnila had to resign over Nazi references, then the party’s chairwoman, finance minister Riikka Purra had to apologise for her old anonymously written online comments that included racial slurs and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Currently parliament speaker in Finland, Halla-aho made opposing immigration the party’s main focus when he chaired it from 2017 to 2021 but says that had nothing to do with racism.
Instead, his party opposes immigration from certain parts of the world as “harmful for Finland”, he said, refusing to name any countries.
“If someone thinks that is racism, then ‘S’il vous plaît’, they can call us racist, but this is not how I understand racism,” he said.
Back in 2012, Halla-aho was fined by the Supreme Court for comments posted on his personal blog in 2008 which linked Islam to paedophilia and Somalis with theft.
In July, Halla-aho as the speaker refused the opposition’s unanimous request to urgently reconvene all MPs to hold a non-confidence vote against the government. The vote will be held in September after the summer recess.