Finland's first European elections in October catapulted some of the country's staunchest Eurosceptics to Strasbourg as MEPs. The result was interpreted by international news media as a sign of clear limits to Finnish enthusiasm for the European Union.

This interpretation was contradicted by some Finnish commentators who pointed out that 11 out of the elected 16 MEPs have a positive attitude to the EU. The fact remains, however, that inside both the Centre Party (which is in opposition) and the Left Alliance (which is in government) Euroskepticism has grown. Among the government parties, only the Conservatives increased their share of votes.

After the Euro-elections, the government, led by the Social Democrats' Paavo Lipponen, pledged that they would stick to their policies.

Professor David Arter from the University of Aberdeen, commenting on the results in his lecture at the Finnish Institute immediately after the elections, said that joining the European Monetary Union clearly represented a great political challenge for the Prime Minister.

"Lipponen thinks that the Monetary Union is not simply an economic but also a political project. It presupposes political co-operation and cannot simply be a monetary policy mechanism."

According to Arter, Lipponen clearly thinks that even if there is an economic risk to Finland in joining the EMU, it is well worth taking.

As to the fears of the domination of the South and a regional imbalance in Finland's European representation, Arter thinks these proved unfounded in the elections.

"In fact, almost half of the MEPs come from outside Uusimaa. Only Oulu (in the North) and Jyväskylä (in Central Finland) are cities wihout an MEP. So the regional distribution has not been bad."

Arter did point out, however, that in attitudes towards Brussels there are still two Finlands. Concentration of Europhiles can be found in Helsinki and surrounding Uusimaa, along with with Häme in Southern Central Finland and Kymi in South Eastern corner of the country.

"A particularly high density of Europhiles can be found among the academically educated, persons between 36 and 45 years of age, those in executive positions, and often, too, they are members of the professional trade union organisation AKAVA.

"Politically the Europhiles are concentrated in three parties: the Conservatives, the Swedish People' Party and the Young Finns. But all parties have their share of Europhiles."

Arter added that a significant factor in the higher level of pro-EU sentiment in Finland than Sweden has been the fact that none of the established parties at the time of the EU referendum in 1994 sought to mobilise votes on an expressly anti-EU ticket and none of them have been uniformly Eurosceptic since.

According to recent opinion polls 50% of the Swedes want to leave the EU. In Finland the corresponding figure is only 21%.

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