True Finns flock to Meloni’s ECR. On Wednesday, the rightwing Finns Party changed its European Parliament allegiance, announcing its switch from the Identity and Democracy (ID) group to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), headed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
- The Finns Party emerged as one of the three winners of the April 2 elections – essentially tying with the other two frontrunners – and has a real shot of entering a coalition government led by Petteri Orpo’s liberal-conservative National Coalition.
The reason? Russia. According to the party’s statement, the “radical change in Finland’s security policy” caused by the Russian war against Ukraine – and resulting in the country joining NATO this week – has led the party to “reexamine [its] international cooperation networks.”
- Moscow’s war of aggression convinced Finland, which has historically been nonaligned but shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia, to rally behind Kyiv and join the Atlantic Alliance.
- Thus, the Finns Party leadership “unanimously decided” to join a group “whose member parties are united by the uncompromising defence of Western civilisation and the European security policy architecture.”
- That goal, reads the statement, can be “best promote[d] through the EU Parliament as a member of the ECR group.”
Defending the Western front… In February, ECR Chairman Ryszard Legutko declared the group “will stand by Ukraine until Russia is defeated and beyond”, as the EU must “ensure that Ukraine emerges victorious from this war — and that Russia pays the price for no longer being able or willing to repeat such an appalling act.”
- That communiqué also calls to ensure that Ukraine’s defence forces “receive the most modern equipment,” that Russian assets are seized to punish the “warmongering elite” and fund the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that sanctions be upheld and extended until Russian forces withdraw from the invaded country.
- That’s in keeping with PM Meloni’s line of “unwavering” support to Kyiv.
- Back in August, the Finns Party updated its foreign policy, declaring that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked “the end of an era in European history” and underscoring “the challenges posed to the democratic Western world by authoritarian countries, especially China and Russia.”
… and shying away from it. On the other hand, the ID group – which the Finns Party is leaving behind – has a softer stance on Russia. Its most prominent affiliates include Matteo Salvini’s League, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party and Alternative for Germany, all political forces with longstanding ties with Moscow.
- One ID member voted against and seven abstained from the March 2022 European Parliament resolution condemning the war in Ukraine.
- ID members also sympathise with Viktor Orbàn’s Fidesz, one of the most pro-Russian forces in the European Parliament.
A new European power balance? With the two Finns Party MEPs joining ECR, the group now counts 64 members – the same as ID. The switch confirms the ECR’s increasing attractiveness (the party has been growing over the past years) and bolsters the possibility, foreshadowed by former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, of a new centre-right European Parliament majority.
- The recent Finnish and Bulgarian elections (as well as Italy’s in 2022 and others across Europe) highlight a surge of rightwing parties. That’s likely to translate into more conservative MEPs coming out of the 2024 European elections.
- Over the past years, also thanks to the preparatory work made by then-MEP and current Italian Minister of European Affairs Raffaele Fitto, ECR has been positioning itself as a point of reference for Europe’s conservative forces.
- Thus, a new majority to elect the next European Commission President could entail a bolstered ECR joining forces with the European People’s Party (EPP) and the liberals (Renew), suggested Mr Berlusconi.