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Finland could stay out of new Greek bailout - foreign minister
[TURKU] Finland could stay out of a planned third bailout deal for Greece, the Nordic country's Eurosceptic foreign minister said on Saturday, amid calls from his nationalist party, The Finns, for a more critical stance towards the EU.
Finland has taken one of the hardest lines against bailouts among euro zone members, and got even tougher in May when The Finns joined a new centre-right coalition. "Of course we can stay out of (the third bailout), that is possible," Timo Soini told Reuters on the sidelines of his party's congress. "We're really out of patience ... Our government has a very tight policy on this. We will not accept increasing Finland's liabilities, or cuts in Greece's debts."
Athens is racing to wrap up agreement on a bailout worth up to 86 billion euros (S$130 billion) within days, hoping to receive a first disbursement in time to make a debt repayment to the European Central Bank.
Finland has said it could accept a deal under which the EU's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, would be used only within its current capacity.
At a meeting of euro zone finance ministers last month, Finland supported the idea of a temporary 'Grexit' - Greece leaving the bloc - but eventually accepted that new loan talks could begin. "If we vote against a deal, it goes to the emergency procedure, and a package is implemented regardless of us," Mr Soini said, referring to a clause in the fund that allows measures to be passed without unanimous approval if stability is deemed to be at risk. "I don't believe that this (bailout) policy will provide solutions, and I think that, in the longer term, 'Grexit' is the most likely scenario." Mr Soini's party, formerly known as True Finns, has risen from obscurity within just a few years to become the second-biggest parliament group in an election last April.
Its criticisms of the EU and its calls for tougher restrictions on immigration have resonated among many citizens as Finland struggles with recession and rising unemployment.
But the party had to make compromises as it agreed for the first time to enter government, teaming up with millionaire prime minister Juha Sipila's Centre party and the pro-EU National Coalition party.
Lately, The Finns has stirred controversy with a Facebook post by one of its lawmakers that called for a fight against multiculturalism.
The congress on Saturday re-elected Mr Soini as party leader, but replaced one of his three deputies with hardline EU opponent Sebastian Tynkkynen, who said the party should not soften its positions. "We must start thinking whether we should be in government at any cost," Mr Tynkkynen said. "The party must become more critical towards the EU, and demand the return of an independent monetary policy."
Erkka Railo, a political scientist at the University of Turku, said he believed the compromises that had to be made in government would inevitably cost The Finns some of their support. "Nevertheless, the party has established its position and will probably be a significant force in politics for years to come," he said.