Backing new Greek bailout not a big winner in Finland

Finland says it has has not been alone in pushing Athens for more conditions

Even for weary Brussels crisis watchers who’ve seen it all in the last five years, the weekend twist in the Greek drama was new. Among the reasons reportedly holding up euro finance ministers agreeing on a third bailout for Athens in Brussels: Finnish populists.

Talks broke up on Saturday night amid rumours of a power play in Helsinki from Finland's Timo Soini, a Millwall FC-loving populist who found God 30 years ago in Killarney.

The concern was that, two months after joining a centre-right alliance in Helsinki, Soini was refusing to back a third package for Greece in a bid to re-establish his populist credentials and credibility with voters.

Soini is no friend of the euro zone's crisis strategy, telling The Irish Times in April that Greek bailouts were a "pyramid scheme". But had he really chosen to make good on his long-standing promise to "pull the plug" on Greece?


Finnish bailout bellyaches are not new, dating back to when it insisted on bilateral collateral from Athens for its loan contributions.

Bailouts are highly unpopular in Finland and the timing of the third aid programme could not have been worse. The new centre-right government took office in May vowing to revive the recessionary economy and cut spending. Then Microsoft announced last week it was cutting about 2,600 jobs from the mobile phone division it purchased from Nokia last year.

Backing aid for Greece at a time like this is unlikely to be a big winner with voters.

After all the dark talk, rumours of a coalition crisis in Helsinki evaporated as eurogroup talks concluded yesterday. Finance minister Alexander Stubb told The Irish Times there had been a "gross misinterpretation" of the facts. Finland had not been alone in pushing Athens for more preconditions before bailout talks could begin, he said.


“We are very much in the mainstream that required and requested conditionality, and I think we succeeded.” The conditions agreed, he said, would be enough for a Helsinki parliamentary committee to back talks on a third bailout.

So, non-crisis averted? Rumours of a coalition split may have been more negotiation tactic than reality.

Yet Soini and his Finns have one more chance to flex their muscles should any final deal go to parliament for backing.

For now at least Stubb says the onus is on Greece to agree measures to prevent reform slippage, and open the door to talks or face a “suspension of Greek euro membership”.

“That,” he said “is the basic choice.”