Finland rocks the EU
Some time late yesterday evening a tremor hit the EU. Its epicentre was Finland. In elections an overtly anti-Euro party made huge gains, coming a close third. The consequences are unclear, but the True Finns party may now have real influence on whether Finland agrees to help bail out Portugal.
The True Finns are an anti-immigration party, wary of the influence of Brussels. A measure of their rise is that at the last election they secured just 4% of the vote. Yesterday they got 19%, which put them in third place. They expect to be invited to talks about joining a coalition.
Unlike other countries in the eurozone, Finland's parliament has the right to vote on EU requests to bail-out other countries. Potentially the strong showing of the True Finns could delay the rescue plan for Portugal.
"This is a big, big bang in Finish politics," Jan Sundberg, a professor from Helsinki University, says. "This is a big, big change."
The leader of the True Finns, Timo Soini, said he did not believe that the terms of the bailout package would remain. "Its a bad deal," he said after the count. His aim was for Finland to "pay less to Brussels". Another party, the Social Democrats, which is also critical of a bailout deal, came in second place.
During the campaign the main party in government - the Centre Party - had warned that Finland had to act responsibly to prevent a crisis in the eurozone. Its pleas went unheeded. It was the biggest loser on the night, left struggling in fourth place. Yes, it had been hurt by a funding scandal - but it was a resounding defeat.
A few years ago the True Finns were a fringe party, that received almost no attention. So what happened? The vote was not just about the bailout. There was anxiety about unemployment and fears of a jobless economic recovery. Reductions in pensions had angered many workers. The party also tapped into fears about immigration.
What makes this election so significant is that it follows a pattern across Europe. Establishment and incumbent parties are being rejected. Nationalist parties are gaining influence.
In the Netherlands, the anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders leads the country's third largest party. In Italy the Northern League - hostile to immigration and wary of the EU - is increasingly powerful. In France, Marine Le Pen - who wants to abandon the euro - is showing strong support in the polls.
Recently, writing in the Financial Times, Peter Spiegel questioned whether we were seeing the emergence of a European Tea Party. Certainly there is a strong sense of alienation and dissatisfaction. Immigration is a key factor. It is shaking governments. There are more than 24 million people without work in the EU and there is no appetite to welcome new arrivals. That is why the migrants from Tunisia are sparking such tension between Italy and France.
As important as immigration is unemployment. In countries like Italy and Spain there is talk of a "lost generation" that cannot find work. There is a growing awareness that Europe may be a low-growth area.
And that feeds into the growing anger towards the bailouts. In Finland, the True Finns appealed to a sense of injustice; that the "squanderers" were being rescued.
And then in countries like Greece and Ireland, voters see the years of austerity stretching ahead. Neither the bankrollers nor the bailed-out are happy.
The temptation in Brussels will be to dismiss the True Finns as populists and to ignore them. It would be more interesting to focus on what is stirring up the European grass-roots. The challenge for Europe's leaders is to listen to what is being said on the streets.
(Interestingly there is a fierce argument developing over whether the bail-out medicine is working. As I reported last week, voices are increasingly urging a re-structuring of Greek debt. Both the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde used the same word to dismiss such talk. Re-structuring would be "catastrophic". It's not on the table, one of them said. And yet clearly it is. It is being discussed everywhere. Why? Because no one can see how the bailed out countries can grow to the point they can pay down their debts)
So what will happen in Finland? Long negotiations to find a governing coalition. The man most likely to be prime minister is Jyrki Katainen. He went out of his way to play down Finland standing up to Brussels. "Finland," he said, "has always been a responsible problem solver... this is about a common European cause." In many different ways the pressure will be on Finland and the True Finns to compromise.
But, politically, Europe is restive, unsettled, anxious and increasingly losing patience with the elites and the parties in power.