Finnish government renounces racism after scandals, staving off collapse

EU-CELAC summit in Brussels

By Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) -Finland's government, rocked by months of accusations over racism, agreed on a policy to combat intolerance on Thursday, the prime minister said - a move that should stave off the collapse of the four-party, right-wing coalition.

Within days of assuming power in June, the government was in turmoil after the media found online postings and articles by ministers from the Finns Party, a far-right member of the coalition, that were deemed racist by critics.

Economy Minister Vilhelm Junnila was forced to resign over repeated references to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis he had made on social media and in campaign adverts, which he described as jokes.

Finance Minister and Finns party leader Riikka Purra apologised in July for anonymous comments she acknowledged she had posted online about 15 years ago - though she said many had been taken out of context.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, whose conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) narrowly won the April election, said on Thursday the government had agreed on a unified policy on how to tackle racism and discrimination.

"Every minister in the government will renounce racism and commit to active work against racism in Finland and internationally," Orpo told a joint press conference with the three other party leaders after a cabinet meeting.

The policy is Orpo's attempt to reunite the cabinet after the crisis. One of the smaller members - the centrist Swedish People's Party (SPP) - had held meetings to discuss whether they could remain in the coalition.


On Thursday, SPP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson said she and her party endorsed the new policy, making it highly unlikely that the opposition's call for a no-confidence vote will gather enough support to bring down the government.

"For SPP it has been a question of whether we can participate in the government or not going forward. The announcement is a clear indication that the government does not accept racism of any kind," Henriksson said.

In July, Finland's Foreign Minister, Elina Valtonen, apologised to Turkey over a 2008 blog post in which Purra, who wrote under a pseudonym, referred to a man as a "Turkish monkey".

Such comments were "not representative of our values and will never be," Valtonen, a member of the prime minister's party, said.

In another old blog post published by Finnish media the anonymous Purra wrote "If I was given a gun, there'd be corpses" after a child of migrant background had mimicked shooting her with his fingers.

Purra apologised for making inappropriate comments in the past, but also said the media took many statements out of context, exaggerated and misquoted others and failed to recognise sarcasm.

"I would like to emphasise that I and the Finns party and everyone else will stand behind this announcement as a whole," Purra said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen, Essi Lehto, editing by Robert Birsel, Terje Solsvik)