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The Swedish People’s Party has, against the predictions of many opinion polls, won a seat in the European Parliament. Carl Haglund, 30 years old and the current State Secretary for Culture Minister Stefan Wallin (SFP), topped the SFP vote and will take the party’s seat.
SFP won 6,1% of the national vote with over 101 000 votes, an increase of around 6 800 votes compared to 2004, an election in which the turnout was higher. SFP took the 13th seat of Finland’s 13 seats and came close to taking the 12th, in what must be considered a very good result for the party. The standing between SFP’s candidates was also close. The party ran 20 candidates with no designated main candidate. For the first time, Åland’s main candidate stood on the SFP list – a factor that was very much of help to SFP. SFP won almost 90% of the almost 10 000 votes cast on Åland.
The other established parties performed badly. The three biggest parties, Kokoomus (National Coaltion), Centre and the Social Democrats all lost one seat. The Left Alliance has fallen out of the EU parliament, losing its one seat. The Greens did well, winning an extra seat to take them to two MEPs.
The populist right-wing True Finns party, in a voting league with the Christian Democrats, saw party leader Timo Soini win the most personal votes of any candidate, 130 432.
Election results in full can be found on Yle’s website: http://yle.fi/val/resultat/2009/eu/index.html.
Pictured, SFP chairman Stefan Wallin and newly elected MEP Carl ‘Calle’ Haglund.
So was the title of Björn Månsson’s interesting leader article in this morning’s Hufvudstadsbladet.
Revisiting the issue of a separate European parliament seat to represent Åland (as Åland politicians are demanding) or for the wider group of all Swedish-speaking Finns (as Henrik Lax and some others have raised), the leader article unveils some interesting facts which make the demand not so unreasonable as it might have previously seemed.
Månsson draws the reader to the attention of the case of the German-speaking minority in Belgium. Like Åland, they have their own parliament and effective autonomy in their own region. The German minority in Belgium are around 73 000 people – rather more than Åland (around 27 000) but small compared to the total number of around 300 000 Swedish-speaking Finns. Yet, the German-speaking Belgians are guaranteed their own place in the European parliament. And that’s despite their proportion of the entire Belgian population being only 0,7 %. Swedish-speaking Finns make up around 6 % of Finland’s population; Ålanders account for about 0,5 %. Looking at those statistics, it’s harder to argue against a specific Swedish-speaking mandate.
Månsson goes on to highlight the case of the German-speaking minority in Italy, the residents of South Tirol. They also have, practically, a safe seat in the European parliament. What’s especially interesting here is that this German minority is around 290 000 in number – i.e. more or less exactly the same in number as the Swedish-speaking Finns. Yet, looking at them as a proportion of Italy’s entire population, they comprise just 0,5 % – a percentage that is equivalent to Åland’s share of Finland’s people. Surely then, Åland’s demands for its own seat in the EU parliament are entirely reasonable.
Perhaps it’s not as easy as that. Månsson points out that it’s much easier for Italy to give away one seat to a minority as due to Italy’s large overall population it gets an entire 78 places in the EU parliament. But for Finland, with only 13 European parliament mandates, giving one mandate away to a district of just 0,5% of the people would seem highly inequitable.
So, perhaps Finland should ask the EU for an extra seat to be given to Åland. According to Hufvudstadsbladet, that seems an unlikely option. The EU has thrown that option out of the window for fear of opening a Pandora’s box where all of Europe’s autonomous areas demand their own individual seat. So, perhaps the second option is to give a mandate to the entire Swedish-speaking population. According to Månsson, that could be secured by introducing a requirement for one of Finland’s MEPs to have Swedish as their mother tongue.
For me, a Swedish speaking mandate sounds impracticable. If we were to use the suggestion in this Hbl leader, how would we make sure that the electorate vote in one MEP with Swedish as their mother tongue? If the first 13 people elected all have Finnish as their mother tongue, do you deprive number 13 of his or her seat and install the most popular Swedish-speaker even if they got a lot less votes than any in the top 13? Surely that would cause an outcry – not least in some quarters of the Finnish language press. It would also be impossible to create a geographic voting district – Finnish and Swedish speakers live side by side. Svenskfinland is not a clear cut geographic entity.
In any case, even if there were to be a Swedish-speaking seat created, would the people of Åland be satisfied? As Månsson writes, probably not. There are many people on Åland who don’t even consider themselves Swedish-speaking Finns (finlandssvenskar). For them, they are Ålanders (ålänningar) – and that is a status apart. For them, it’s only direct representation for Åland – and Åland alone – that will do.
Returning to this subject, the BBC has now picked up on this matter.
The 25 000 or so Ålanders find themselves in the international media!
There is every chance that Åland’s provincial parliament, the lagting, could vote to reject the EU’s Lisbon Treaty (the replacement for the previously proposed European constitution) causing a constitutional dilemma for Finland. Finland’s parliament, the riksdag (or eduskunta), will almost certainly say yes to the treaty when it comes up for handling there.
Today, there are 10 members of the lagting who have said they will vote no. If 11 should vote against, it would fall. Sceptism towards the European Union has increased in recent times on Åland. Åland wants its own member of the European parliament and the right to speak for itself in the European courts. Mariehamn is also irritated by the EU’s decision to forbid snus sales on the islands and on Åland-flagged ferries (a decision made even worse by the fact it originally arrived in only Finnish and French).
If Åland does vote no, it will give Finland three options to continue:
- Finland can negotiate with Brussels to allow Åland to exit the EU. This would put Åland in a similar position to the Faroe Islands and Greenland which are both Danish territories but outside EU.
- Finland can accept Åland’s decision and not ratify Lisbon – however, this would mean the treaty would not enter into force in the entirety of the union – which would be politically unacceptable to other member-states.
- Finland can negotiate with Åland to reconsider their no-vote. Doubtless, Åland would demand concessions – probably in the shape of their own MEP, something which Finland could deliver by creating a separate election district for just Åland in EU parliament elections. This would not go down well on the mainland though.
Ending up outside of the EU could also present disadvantages for Ålanders. They would probably have the right of freedom of movement (and especially residence and employment) restricted, both for themselves and their goods and capital.