Europe

Finnish Party Backtracks From Term ‘Native Finns’ in Immigration Policy Proposal After Backlash

The liberal-conservative National Coalition Party has said the choice to use the term “native Finn” was poor, since clarifying that it was not intended to refer to ethnicity, but rather a combination of citizenship and permanent residence.

The centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) has regretted the wording of its nine-point immigration and integration policy proposal, following a backlash from opponents and the general public, national broadcaster Yle has reported.

Among other things, the document proposed differentiating social security for immigrants and “native Finns” and suggested conditioning being granted permanent residence with criteria such as sufficient Finnish language skills and knowledge of Finnish society. The proposal also suggested that during the integration process immigrants should not receive the same amount in social welfare payments as the “native population”.

An NCP press release emphasised that the initiatives largely coincided with those proposed by the Juha Sipilä administration in 2016, which suggested linking social security benefits to education, language skills, and satisfactory knowledge of Finnish society and culture.

NCP MP Pia Kauma, who led the party’s working group in drafting the proposal, underscored that the measures were aimed at tackling the lagging employment rates among foreign-background residents, which is more than twice as high as that of native Finns. Kauma ventured that the current integration policy had granted freedoms to immigrants but failed to impose “sufficient obligations and responsibilities”.

The proposal, however, triggered a significant backlash on social media, particularly the use of the term “native Finn”, which some perceived to be a “dog whistle”.

The Libyan coastguard pull a boat carrying illegal African migrants, rescued as they were trying to reach Europe, at a naval base near the capital Tripoli on September 29, 2015.

Others wondered how exactly “native Finnishness” is defined, and Centre MP Joonas Könttä wondered “how far back must the family’s roots go, and are there any other criteria?”

In response, Kauma said the party regretted the choice of the term used and added that it was not intended to refer to ethnicity.

“The term ‘native Finn’ was used in our integration policy proposal. We have now clarified the term to mean ‘Finnish citizen permanently residing in Finland’ in order to avoid misinterpretations””, Kauma tweeted.

​Kai Mykkänen, former interior minister and current chair of the NCP’s parliamentary group, also apologised for the wording, adding that “due to an error, the sentence could be interpreted in a way we do not mean”.

“Permanent residence in Finland does not require ‘native Finnishness’, whatever that means. Instead, in our proposal, permanent residence is related to obtaining a permanent residence permit or citizenship, and living in Finland (by which the support is conditioned even for the time being)”, Mykkänen wrote.

Labelled as liberal-conservative, the NCP has been a strong supporter of multiculturalism since the 1990s and early 2000s, becoming the largest party in the Finnish Parliament. In recent years, however, its popularity has slumped somewhat, with the group receding to third place and trailing the ruling Social Democrats and the nationalist Finns Party.

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