12 MAY 2011
By Naomi Powell | The Globe and Mail
The European Union’s hard-fought push to bail out Portugal cleared a major obstacle on Wednesday, but patience for the region’s weakest links is wearing thin.
Finland’s governing National Coalition announced on Wednesday it had secured the support of the Social Democrats, the country’s second-largest party, to back the €78-billion ($106.4-billion) rescue package. It is a major victory for the EU, which requires unanimous approval from its member states before it can move ahead with the lifeline.
But that victory does not spell the end of Finnish resistance to the EU. The populist True Finns, a fierce critic of the EU and financial bailouts, rocketed out of obscurity in last month’s Finnish election to become the country’s third-largest party and a serious threat to the nation’s Portuguese rescue plans. Now, with the True Finns’ involvement either as a member of the ruling coalition or as a strong opposition, Finland will almost certainly be a more reluctant player in future bailouts.
And even as the EU won Finland’s conditional support, fears are spreading that other nations will not follow suit, causing broader policies aimed at solving the euro zone’s debt crisis to come undone.
Indeed, the resentment that fuelled the True Finns’ dramatic ascent isn’t limited to Finland. Rising public discontent with bailouts is fuelling a surge in anti-EU sentiment that could frustrate efforts to avert complete financial disaster in the euro zone. The True Finns’ success came on the heels of gains by populist, often anti-immigrant parties in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Austria. Their messages, though tailored to individual electorates, share common themes: a growing resentment of financial rescues and a distrust of an EU “elite” in Brussels.
“There’s a perfectly predictable and logical geographic pattern to it,” said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist for Capital Economics. “It’s strongest in Northern European economies, which are doing pretty well and which are being called upon to come up with funds to support the weaker southern European economies. That’s exactly where you expect the resistance to be greatest.”
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