Finnish PM grilled by progressive MEPs over far-right alliance

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo was harshly criticised by progressive Members of the European Parliament.
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo was harshly criticised by progressive Members of the European Parliament. Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Jorge Liboreiro
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
Copy/paste the article video embed link below:Copy to clipboardCopied

Finland's prime minister addressed on Wednesday the European Parliament and outlined his political priorities for the next legislature.


"My government is committed to a strong European Union. An EU that acts not only reacts. We want to build a Union that takes care of our common security and works for our economy," Petteri Orpo told lawmakers.

But the premier's speech quickly descended into finger-pointing and recriminations over his alliance with the Finns Party, a populist, Eurosceptic party that has been plagued by racism, anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism scandals.

The Finns Party sits with the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) in the Strasbourg hemicycle, while Orpo's National Coalition belongs to the European People's Party (EPP), the centre-right formation that holds the largest share of seats. Orpo's cabinet also features members from the Swedish People's Party of Finland (Renew Europe) and Christian Democrats (EPP).

Last year, one of the Finns Party's ministers, Vilhelm Junnila, resigned after it was revealed he had made jokes about "Heil Hitler" and promoted abortions in Africa as a method to combat climate change. The party's leader, Riikka Purra, was forced to apologise for making racist remarks about Turkish and Somali immigrants in the past.

Progressive forces see the Helsinki government as evidence of the increasingly blurred line between the traditional right and the extreme right, a phenomenon they say is spreading fast across the bloc and threatens the viability of European integration.

Iratxe García Pérez, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), led the charge against the guest of honour, telling him: "Your only enemy is the far right." The Spaniard also name-checked EPP President Manfred Weber, whom she considers to be the mastermind behind the ideological rapprochement.

"Your alliance with the far right is the real threat to our democracy and to the European project. This is why the future of the European Union is at stake," García Pérez said.

"In times of uncertainty and great transformation, it is not enough to simply try to resist the reactionary wave. We have to move forward," she went on.

"Mr Orpo, Mr Weber: put an end to your alliance with those who want to destroy Europe."

Another point of contention was Orpo's proposal for a Green Deal rethink after the elections to the European Parliament, scheduled to take place between 6 and 9 June. The Finnish PM urged the bloc to "recalibrate our climate policy and shift away from overly detailed regulation to fostering innovation."

"We need carrots and incentives, not sticks and bureaucracy," he said, prompting applause from EPP lawmakers, who have adopted a more critical stance on the Green Deal spearheaded by Ursula von der Leyen, the party's most prominent politician.

Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Greens, took exception to Orpo's pitch and argued Finland's frugal stance on public spending was in "contradiction" with the goals of deploying renewable energy, as this entails significant expenses for all member states. 

"Regulation sets ourselves targets and creates markets. So we need regulation," Lamberts told him. "You cannot at the same time say we need more carrots, but then we don't want to spend money on it. I mean, what are the carrots if it's not public money?"

Lamberts also denounced Orpo's cabinet, saying "people like us should never, never go into alliance with people who de facto consider some human beings as inferior."

"That's what you did in Finland. And I'm glad, Manfred (Weber), that your colleagues in Portugal are not going to do that," he said, referring to the recent outcome of the legislative elections in Portugal, where the victorious conservatives have ruled out entering into a coalition with the far-right Chega party.

Finland's Petteri Orpo addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Finland's Petteri Orpo addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.European Union, 2024.

The criticism against Orpo, his political alliances and his economic reforms was extensively echoed by other progressive MEPs during the hour-long debate in Strasbourg, even if occasionally interrupted by expressions of support from right-wing and hard-right lawmakers.

Nicola Procaccini, co-chair of the ECR group, warmly welcomed the Finnish PM and said his electoral victory was "more important than you can ever imagine."

"And even more significant was your choice to govern alongside the Finns Party. A notable member of our political family. You managed to resist the pressure of those who didn't want a coalition between the EPP and the ECR," Procaccini said. "If the centre right is united, it wins everywhere in Europe and the left knows this all too well."


The ECR group is considered more ideologically tolerable for the EPP than the other Eurosceptic formation in the parliament, Identity and Democracy (ID), which encompasses the likes of National Rally (France), Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), Flemish Interest (Belgium) and the Freedom Party of Austria.

Von der Leyen and Weber have dismissed ID as "Putin's friends" and rejected any possible cooperation with them. However, some members of the ECR, like Fratelli d'Italia (Italy), Civic Democratic Party (Czech Republic) and Sweden Democrats (Sweden) are seen as more suitable partners for the mainstream conservatives, as demonstrated by Orpo's working arrangement with the Finns Party.

Opinion polls project a substantial increase in seats for both the ECR and the ID groups, which would weaken the grand coalition between conservatives, socialists and liberals.

At the end of the debate, the premier took the floor again to defend his coalition and double down on his political agenda, particularly on support for Ukraine, an issue that the EPP uses as a yardstick to distinguish palatable from unpalatable parties.

"Madame García Pérez and for many others: there (are) no far-right parties in my government," Orpo told the hemicycle. "(The) Finnish government is pro-rule of law. It's pro-democracy. It's pro-equal gender rights. It's pro-Ukraine. Pro-European Union. "

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Analysis: Europe’s centre-right keeps door ajar to populists amid far-right surge

Impossible to work with 'Putin's friends' after EU elections, von der Leyen says

Right-wing populists could gain control of EU Parliament for first time as voters swing right: study