TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Finland's government was brought to the verge of collapse on Monday as centrist and conservative parties both said the populist The Finns party cannot stay in the three-member government coalition after it elected an anti-EU and anti-immigration hardliner as its chairman last week.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila of the Center Party and Petteri Orpo of the National Coalition Party said that there was no common ground and "no common value base" for working with The Finns' new leader, Jussi Halla-aho.
"We (coalition parties) need to have a value base that is sufficiently close to each other and a trust built on that base," Sipila said at Monday's news conference.
Halla-aho's skeptical views on the European Union and hostile blog writings on immigration were seen as clashing badly with the Nordic country's government program, the two party leaders said.
Sipila said the floor is now open to start talks Tuesday with other parties to replace The Finns — a rare example of a European populist party that had managed to hold Cabinet positions, under the leadership of current Foreign Minister Timo Soini.
Smaller parties such as the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People's Party, and possibly also The Greens, are likely to show interest in entering Sipila's center-right government, which took office in May 2015.
The government currently musters a comfortable majority, holding 124 seats in the 200-seat Parliament.
Halla-aho — a 46-year-old European Parliament lawmaker who was convicted in 2012 for making racist and anti-Muslim statements on his blog — was elected as the new chairman of The Finns in a landslide vote on Saturday.
He replaced Soini who served 20 years at the helm of party — previously known as True Finns — and established it as one of Europe's main populist parties.