Harri Tiido weighs the Finns Party against Estonia's Conservative People's Party (EKRE) in his Vikerraadio program "Harri Tiido taustajutud." I cannot imagine a Finns Party member saying they don't care whether Finland is a province or a republic, or whether the flag is blue and white or some other color, Tiido remarks.
The Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset) did well at the recent Finnish parliamentary elections. The party got more seats than ever before, while chairwoman Riikka Purra put in the fourth best result in Finnish history. The Finns have plenty to boast about.
EKRE was not as successful at Estonian parliamentary elections. Its vote yield missed expectations by quite some margin and the party has no business in the next government. Of course, we do not know whether the Finns Party will be included in the government there either, but that makes for a different topic.
What elections in Estonia and Finland had in common was somewhat heightened international attention this time around. In both cases, I believe it comes down to the countries' current prime ministers, Kaja Kallas in Estonia and Sanna Marin in Finland. Young, active and visible female politicians tend to draw more attention to their country and party.
But we are talking about EKRE and the Finns Party here. They tend to get lumped in together as radical and populist forces... Both belong to the Identity and Democracy group in the European Parliament, which is also home to several well-known troublemakers whom mainstream politicians take care not to be photographed with.
Still, we are only looking at two parties, one on either side of the Gulf of Finland. While EKRE and the Finns Party may look similar in Europe, there seem to be some differences between them. If only in how their leaders conduct themselves.
In Estonia, EKRE lent its ticket to someone who had openly expressed indifference toward whether Estonia is referred to as an oblast or something else, and in terms of whether the [Tall Hermann] tower is flying the Estonian flag or some other.
In the case of Finland, I cannot imagine a Finns Party member saying they don't care whether Finland is a province or a republic, or whether the flag is blue and white or some other color. While there might be such people, I believe they would not last long in that particular company. But everything seems to be in order in Estonia, with the party leader merely remarking that while he and the person in question might have differences of opinion in foreign policy, the party honors freedom of opinion.
I believe that particular person running for EKRE robbed the [national conservative] party of a considerable number of Estonian votes, while yielding only a few Russian ones in their place.
I also cannot imagine a Finns Party minister openly ridiculing and running down a foreign country's leader. This would not sit well with their voters. It happened in Estonia, whereas we saw no clear condemnation from the party, with some people rather egging the remarks on. Something like this works to rebuff people with manners.
The Finns Party has been a government partner, and my personal experience finds their former leader Timo Soini more than in touch with reality. He ended up representing the party's more moderate wing, which eventually broke off, but still. Soini's successor Jussi Halla-aho, who was never a member of government but whom I have also met and talked to, came off as an entirely intelligent person, a doctor of sciences after all. He was also the only person who, when asked during a televised debate what was the biggest threat Finland faced, did not hesitate to say it was Russia.
EKRE has also changed leaders. Or as put by a member of the [Helme] family, power was transferred aristocratically, from father to son. This might have been a positive development as the sins of the father and all that. That is also why he (EKRE leader Martin Helme – ed.) is exempt from explaining his father's delusions about flying and how an angel patted him on the head and gave him instructions. However, such biblical passages might not benefit the party as a whole, at least not from the point of view of common sense.
I believe that the Finns Party's current leader Riikka Purra has made it even more palatable. As pointed out by a European observer, the Finns Party has gone from a national populist force to a European radical right party. While I'm not sure whether the comment was meant as a positive or negative remark, it is an obvious clue that the party has moved from backwater populism to mainstream European politics.
Purra's remarks leading up to elections touched on many conservative favorites and those of the elections winner the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus). Foreign and security policy and NATO membership were hardly bones of contention as most Finns agree there. While one Finns Party MP voted against joining NATO, they did not get enough votes to be reelected.
For EKRE, Ukraine and Russia's military aggression proved problematic on numerous occasions, considering the position of most Estonians. Criticizing Ukraine aid and refugees being welcomed in Estonia left a bad taste in voters' mouths and again robbed them of quite a few votes.
Migration is one topic on which the Finns Party stands out among its peers. But neighboring Sweden's problems make it a topic of considerable weight in the country, which can both yield and rob parties of votes. Nevertheless, Riikka Purra said that labor migration can be discussed if Finland introduces a points system. Direct anti-EU sentiment has also been shelved at least temporarily, with comments amounting to criticism only.
In summary, the Finns Party's outward behavior comes off more moderate and educated than EKRE's. But that may not be all there is to the difference. It is likely that the traditional party landscape is being redrawn in Finland as we speak.
There are fewer habitual party preferences in Estonia, which is why these processes differ. The falling number of workers, rural area residents moving to cities, former employees employing themselves or starting SMEs, new fields of work and many others aspects that change the way people think are having an effect.
Therefore, the question is whether party leaders manage to keep up with these changes or whether they prefer to go out singing the old anthem as the last party soldier standing.
Editor: Marcus Turovski