December 22, 2015 / 8:52 AM / 4 years ago

Finns' support for euro falls as parliament prepares for referendum debate

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Support in Finland for keeping the euro currency has fallen to 54 percent amid persistent economic problems, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday, as parliament prepares for a debate next year on whether to hold referendum on euro membership.

New 20 Euro banknotes are presented at the Austrian national bank in Vienna February 24, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Despite recovery elsewhere in the euro zone, Finland has suffered three years of economic contraction and some Finns say its prospects would improve if it returned to the markka currency.

Parliament had to agree to a debate on a possible referendum after a petition raised the necessary 50,000 signatures. The debate will probably be held in the first half of 2016. The move is unlikely to end membership, analysts say.

The poll by public broadcaster YLE published on Tuesday showed that 54 percent of Finns supported remaining in the euro zone, while 31 percent wanted to leave. Asked whether Finland would do better outside the euro zone, 44 percent answered yes.

Last month, a Eurobarometer poll showed 64 percent of Finns backed the euro currency, down from 69 percent a year earlier.

Finland’s foreign minister and the leader of eurosceptic The Finns party Timo Soini told reporters that even if many believed the euro was harmful for the country there was not enough political will to leave the currency bloc.

“I think Finland should not have joined the euro. But how to dismantle that decision, that is a very complicated question.”

He noted that Finland adopted the euro in 1998 without a referendum, while neighbors Sweden and Denmark voted down the idea of adopting the euro a few years later.

Finland was once known for its prudent fiscal policy, but after the global financial crisis its recovery has been hit by a string of problems, including high labor costs and recession in neighboring Russia.

The European Commission expects the economy to grow by just 0.3 percent this year and by 0.7 percent in 2016, which are lower figures than for any other EU country except Greece.

Pointing to the example of Sweden, many Finns say the markka would help the economy as it could devalue against the euro, making Finnish exports less expensive.

Soini declined to say whether he was in favor of a euro exit or a referendum. Instead he argued in support of government plans to balance public finances and improve export competitiveness through “internal devaluation”. These proposals have raised stark opposition from trade unions.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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