HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's exit from the euro zone is possible and even likely in the future, euroskeptic lawmaker Sampo Terho, the frontrunner in a race to lead the co-ruling Finns party, said on Friday.
With his comments, Terho moved closer to his nearest rival, the hard-liner Jussi Halla-aho - a sign of challenges ahead for the country's unpopular three-party government.
Terho kicked off his party leadership campaign on Friday, telling a press conference that it was hard for Finland to keep its exports competitive because of its euro membership.
"The only way to sustain our competitiveness is internal devaluation, which we carried out," he said, referring to a hard-fought labor reform that sparked anti-government demonstrations and strikes in 2015.
"The other option, if looking forward to the 2020s, 2030s and 2040s, is to return to our own currency ... When we take this long look, that option seems possible, even likely," Terho said.
Terho is considered the most popular candidate for the party leadership, trailed by Halla-aho. A poll for Finnish broadcaster MTV released this Wednesday showed support for Terho among party activists at 60 percent, compared with 22 percent for Halla-aho.
He has generally taken more moderate positions than Halla-aho, a member of European Parliament who has said bluntly he would take Finland out of the euro zone and the European Union.
The Finns party, previously known as True Finns, rose from obscurity during the euro zone debt crisis. It has since softened its anti-EU rhetoric, a move that helped the party enter government in 2015 but also angered voters: its support tumbled in municipal elections earlier this month to 8.8 percent.
Terho also said he would be ready to campaign for a referendum on EU membership in the 2019 parliament elections, if the majority of the party backs the idea.
"We will strengthen our position as Finland's only euroskeptic party," he said.
According to a survey last year, 68 percent of Finnish citizens support EU membership.
Analysts have said a move back to a more hard-line platform in the party could spell trouble for the government, which is committed to the euro but is now having a hard time pushing through a major health care reform.
The Finns will elect a new chairman in a party congress in June. The winner will replace Timo Soini, the foreign minister, who is stepping down from the leadership after 20 years.
(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Jussi Rosendahl)