Finland was in the first wave of countries joining the euro, the European elite of 12 countries with public finances sound enough to meet the criteria allowing entrance in 1999. And now, it may be among the first to get out, at least according to its foreign minister. Erkki Tuomioja is hardly an anti-Europe firebrand: an avowed leftist, the Social Democrat is an experienced, multilingual, erudite social scientist, writer and politician who has held the post for a combined total of nine years. Yet he told The Daily Telegraph on Friday that "we have to face openly the possibility of a euro break up."
Public opinion in the Nordic country isn't clamoring for an exit, and Tuomioja himself recognized it: "It is not something that anybody -- even the True Finns -- are advocating in Finland, let alone the government. But we have to be prepared."
The True Finns are an Eurosceptic, nationalist party that won 19 percent of the vote in the 2011 election for parliament, rocketing to third place among Finnish parties and gaining a relevant voice in the national debate. But they haven't gone so far as to demand a return to the markka, the currency that was legal tender until 2002, when all payments switched to euros.
Still, the True Finns' leader, Timo Soini, was a lot less diplomatic than the foreign minister. "There are no rules on how to leave the euro but it is only a matter of time. Either the south or the north will break away because this currency straitjacket is causing misery for millions and destroying Europe's future," he was quoted as saying by the British newspaper.
The Telegraph's story ignited a minor firestorm in Europe, prompting Finland's European Affairs minister Alexander Stubb to tell the Wall Street Journal that his government wasn't planning to bolt. "Every government has various scenarios that they are working with. Our No. 1 scenario is that the euro zone will regain stability and we are working in a constructive way to achieve that goal," he said.
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Tuomioja backpedalded by saying that the British newspaper (which admittedly has never been particularly friendly to European integration) had run a "misleading headline. "
Finland is one of the three remaining countries in the eurozone whose public debt is rated AAA by all major rating agencies, along with Germany and the Netherlands. A relative latecomer to the European Union, which it joined in 1995, it rapidly joined the ranks of the EU's more fiscally sound, richer states -- and it has lately shown itself to be a tough negotiator at European summits, imposing strict terms on Spain and Greece in exchange for the bailout packages largely financed by the Union's wealthy northern countries.