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Euroscepticism and the Fear of Unknown

, by Mikko Malmberg

Populist political parties have been on the rise in many EU countries for some time now, but the results of the parliamentary elections in Finland few weeks ago caught even most of the Finns off guard.

©Jon-Eric Melsæter (https://flic.kr/p/5z7VAc)


The victory of the Centre Party came as no surprise since the Gallups had for some time been showing their substantial lead over the government parties at the time, the National Coalition and the Social Democrats, but hardly anyone was predicting the populist Finns party (formerly known as the True Finns) to end up as the second biggest party in the parliament since the Gallups were only placing them as the fourth most popular party. However, at the time of the final polls, 40% of the voters were still undecided and afterwards it does make sense that many of these voters leaned towards the Finns. This is because although in many ways the Finns party resembles the Dutch PVV, they cannot be as clearly placed on the right wing of the political spectrum, but rather they could be labelled as a ‘protest party’ that shares ideologies with both right and the left, but whose main ideology seems to have been until now to criticise the government parties.

What both PVV and the Finns have in common is their euroscepticism, and their critical and sometimes even purely racist opinions on immigration issues. For example, Finns party member and member of parliament Teuvo Hakkarainen who received over five thousand votes in these elections, has previously suggested that gays and Somalians should be placed in Åland, an island in the Baltic Sea belonging to Finland, in order to remove these people from rest of the Finnish society and to see what kind of “model society” that would bring about. However, perhaps unlike the PVV leader Geert Wilders, who himself has made some questionable statements regarding immigrants, the Finns party leader Timo Soini has not taken these sort of racist comments from his party members very lightly but has instead referred to these people as “rotten apples” and even kicked out of the party one member of parliament, after he posted a photo on social media showing his friend doing a Nazi salute inside the Parliament building. Soini personally has been trying to steer away from immigration issues during recent years and focused more on criticising the EU and the Finnish government’s work in general.

Yet in many ways the desire to separate from the EU and the desire to restrict immigration go hand in hand, because both of these ideals are often more or less based on lack of knowledge. For example, MP Hakkarainen is a former sawmill entrepreneur from central Finland, an area which has very few people of immigrant background. In the municipality that he is from, Viitasaari, the percentage of immigrants was as low as 0.7% in 2013, [1] whereas in the whole of Finland that number was 3.8%, which is still very low compared to the rest of the EU. It therefore seems that Hakkarainen largely bases his opinions about immigrants on something other than well-rounded knowledge of them.

Fear of the unknown, also known as xenophobia, is arguably natural for humans and it has helped us to survive on this earth for thousands of years. During the prehistoric times when humans had tribes instead of societies, the distrust of outsiders was understandably a useful trait which ensured that the group stayed operational. [2] However, within societies the fact that xenophobia is often based solely on the lack of knowledge is dangerous and has enabled some of the worst events in the history of mankind to happen, just have a look at some of the propaganda posters from the First and Second World War depicting enemy nations. Therefore, as humans we must strive for sharing knowledge, ideas, customs and so on, about the world and about each other, and one of the central ways of doing that is creating platforms where these kind of discussions can take place. The EU is one of those platforms, and while critical discourse about it must continue, we the people as inhabitants of Europe should aim at fixing the EU from the inside, instead of moving into the direction of separation and isolation.

A few weeks ago the new Prime Minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä from the Centre Party, announced that the Finns party is going to be part of the new conservative government together with the National Coalition. Around the same time also the UK moved firmly towards a more eurosceptic direction with the Conservative Party gaining more seats while the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats both lost many seats. The EU now, perhaps more than ever, needs people who are spreading the message of European unity, and also new ideas about how to improve the EU from within. Otherwise, the direction of the EU will most likely be controlled by those who wish to take advantage of people’s fears instead of dissolving them.

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