The predecessor of the True Finns was the Finnish Rural Party (Suomen maaseudun puolue, SMP), founded by Agrarian League dissident Veikko Vennamo in 1959. Vennamo ran into serious disagreement particularly with Arvo Korsimo, then party secretary of the Agrarian League, and was excluded from the parliamentary group. As a result, Vennamo immediately started building his own organization and founded a new party, the Finnish Rural Party. Vennamo was a populist and became a critic of President Kekkonen and of the political corruption within the "old parties", particularly the Centre Party (the renamed Agrarian League). The Rural Party achieved its two major victories in the elections of 1970 and 1983, winning 18 and 17 seats respectively. In the 1970s the party was highly personalized in Veikko Vennamo, and his style of leadership alienated some in the party, which led to a split in the parliamentary group in 1972. After the Rural Party's new rise in 1983 under Vennamo's son Pekka Vennamo the party became a partner in two coalition cabinets. However, the party's support declined steadily in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995 the party won only one seat in the parliament and soon after filed for bankruptcy.
Following the collapse of the Finnish Rural Party, the decision to found the Finns Party was made in the summer of 1995 by Timo Soini, Raimo Vistbacka, Urpo Leppänen and Kari Bärlund. Soini had been the Rural Party's last party secretary and Vistbacka its last chairman and MP. The five thousand signatures needed for the registration of the party were collected by October 1995 and the party was added to the official party register on 13 October 1995. The first party congress was held in November. Raimo Vistbacka was elected chairman of the party and Timo Soini the party secretary.
After its founding in 1995, it took some time before the Finns Party started to win credible ground in the Finnish elections. At the time of its founding the party had one MP, Raimo Vistbacka (having been the last MP of the Rural Party), who was reelected in the 1999 election. In the 2003 parliamentary election the party won three seats: besides Vistbacka also Soini and Tony Halme were elected. In the 2007 parliamentary election the party gained two further seats for a total of five. In the 2008 municipal election the party was most successful in those districts where the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance lost most. In the 2011 parliamentary election (see below) the Centre Party suffered the largest blow from the Finns Party's success.
According to a 2008–2009 study the party's supporters view themselves as centrist: on a scale where 1 is extreme left and 10 is extreme right the average Finns Party supporter placed themselves at 5.4. According to the same study the party's supporters are united by patriotism and social conservatism.
A 2011 study indicated that the Finns Party is the most popular party among voters with an annual income of 35,000–50,000 euros, while over a quarter of the party's voters earn over 50,000 per year. The same study also indicated that the party's voters include a higher percentage of blue collar workers than those of the Social Democratic Party.
The head of the party is Timo Soini, who has been the party's leader since 1997. He was first elected to the parliament in 2003. Soini was the Finns Party's candidate in the 2006 Presidential election. He was elected to the European Parliament in 2009 with the highest personal vote share in the country. He served as an MEP for two years, returning to the Finnish parliament in the 2011 election. Soini was the party's presidential candidate for the second time in the election of 2012.
The Finns Party obtained 39 seats in the 2011 election, making them the third largest party, narrowly behind the National Coalition (44) and the Social Democrats (42). Soini received 43,212 personal votes, the highest number of all candidates, leaving behind the Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb and the Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen in their Uusimaa electoral district. The popularity of the party rose from 4.1% to 19.1% in just four years. Helsingin Sanomat said in an editorial that the Finns Party and Soini had "rewritten the electoral history books". According to political analyst Jan Sundberg, Soini has the ability to appeal to common people and make complicated things look easy. The election result was also referred to as "shocking" and "exceptional".
After the election the National Coalition Party (NCP) began negotiations aiming to form a cabinet between the NCP, the Social Democrats (SDP) and the Finns Party. However, when it became clear that the NCP and the SDP would continue to support EU bailouts, which the Finns Party vehemently opposed during the electoral campaign, the Finns Party voluntarily broke from the negotiations in order to become the leading opposition party. Soini said that the party would not compromise its core principles just to get in the government. According to an opinion poll most of the party's supporters accepted this decision.
In the opinion polls the party's popularity initially continued to rise after the election as well: in June 2011 one opinion poll gave the Finns Party a record popularity of 23 per cent. The party's membership has risen too: as of 2013 the party has over 8,000 members (up from circa 5,500 in 2011 and circa 1,000 in 2005). The number of members of the party's Youth Organisation has been on the rise as well, going from 800 before the 2011 election to over 2,200 in 2013.
The party nominated Soini as its candidate for the presidential election of 2012. Soini finished fourth in the election with 9.4 percent. Soini interpreted the result by saying that half of the party's voters wanted him for president, while the other half wanted to keep him as the party's chairman.
In the municipal election of 2012 the party got 12.3 percent of votes and 1,195 seats in the municipal councils, up more than 750 from the previous municipal election. However, this result saw the votes for the Finns Party shrink significantly from the 2011 parliamentary election result. Overall voter turnout was also much lower which may have been a factor.
The party got 12.9 percent of votes in the 2014 European Parliament election and increased its number of MEPs to two.
In the 2015 parliamentary election the Finns Party got 17.7% of the votes and 38 seats. This meant that they were the third largest party by votes but the second largest party by seats. On 22 June 2016, the Finns Party MP Maria Tolppanen joined the SDP, after which the Finns Party has 37 seats in the Parliament.
Since the Finns Party entered the government, it has lost much of its support in opinion polls.
When the Finns Party first gained representation in the European Parliament in 2009, it became a founding member of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD) in the Parliament. After the 2014 election, however, the party chose to leave the EFD in order to join the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). Commenting on the party's choice of group, party secretary Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo said in 2014 that joining a right-wing parliamentary group would not change the party's characteristic of being a "centre-left workers' party".
In evaluating the Finns Party's 70 page program for the 2011 election Mikko Lahtinen, political scientist in the University of Tampere, and Markku Hyrkkänen, historian of ideas in the University of Turku, note that nationalism is a theme consistently repeated throughout the program. According to them the party presents populism as a noble ideology, which seeks to empower the people. Lahtinen describes the rhetoric used in the program as a refreshing change to the politically correct "jargon" of mainstream media, and believes that the Finns Party may have succeeded in gaining supporters from the traditional left-wing parties by presenting a more attractive form of criticism of neoliberalism than those parties.
Ville Pernaa, political scientist, described the party's 2015 electoral program by saying that the Finns Party combines elements of both right-wing and left-wing politics along with populist rhetoric.
Policies of the Finns Party include the following:Progressive taxation and the welfare state
The Finns Party has proposed more progressivity to taxes in order to avoid the establishment of flat taxation. The party has called for the raising of the capital gains tax and the re-institution of the wealth tax. According to the party, the willingness to pay taxes is best guaranteed by a society unified by correct social policies — the electoral program warns against individualist policies, which weaken the solidarity among citizens. "The willingness to pay taxes is guaranteed by having a unified people", the program reads (p. 46).
Some observers have compared the Finns Party's fiscal policies to the old national Social Democratic taxation policy, which has given the left-wing brand to the Finns Party. During the electoral campaign in 2011 Soini stated that he preferred the Social Democrats over the center-right National Coalition Party as a possible coalition partner in a future cabinet. Soini has stated that the Finns Party is a "workers' party without socialism". A researcher for the opinion polling company Taloustutkimus agreed, describing the Finns Party as a "non-socialist workers' party".State support for rural regions, including support for agriculture
The Finns Party's rural policy program suggests state subsidies to relieve the effect of structural changes on the rural areas. This policy is shared by the Centre Party in Finland and originates from the agrarian and rural policies of both parties.Increased state investment in infrastructure and industry
The Finns Party favours state investments in infrastructure and industry as well. A tendency towards favouring old industrial policies have led some political analysts to label the Finns Party as a center-left party.Aspiration to energy self-reliance and support for nuclear energy
Pro-industry environmental policy — opposition to green tax reform and to taxpayers' involvement in emission trading funds
Teaching "healthy national pride" in schools, because the unity of citizens is the basis of society.
Removal of the obligatory character of the second official language (Swedish in Finnish-language schools and vice versa) in curriculums on all levels of education, freeing up time for the learning of other foreign languages such as English, German, French, Spanish and Russian (especially in the eastern part of the country). Obviously allowance regarding the use of the Swedish language and its teaching will have to be made for those communes where Swedish-speaking populations are in the majority or a large percentage of the population - Swedish is a legally recognized 'second language' of Finland.
Support for cultural activities that "promote Finnish identity"
The cultural program of the Finns Party, which proposed subsidizing traditional art over postmodernist art, prompted criticism from outside the party and generated debate within the party as well. Some critics of the policy called it overtly populist or said that the state should not interfere with the content of art. A poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat at the time of the controversy found that a majority, 51 percent, of Finns agreed with the party's stance on ending subsidies for postmodern art.Supporting the traditional family model; opposing same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and in vitro fertilization given to same-sex couples and single women.
Regarding immigration policy the 2011 manifesto emphasises:Limiting humanitarian immigration strictly to refugee quotas (which should be adapted to correspond with the economic situation),
Limiting family unification to proven direct relatives only, and requiring means of subsistence from the immigrant,
Deporting those immigrants guilty of serious or recurrent crimes,
Welcoming work-based immigration, provided the immigrants pay taxes and abide by Finnish labour laws,
Granting Finnish nationality after five years' residence in Finland, provided the immigrant masters Finnish, has no criminal record, and has means of subsistence
The party also requires that immigrants accept Finnish cultural norms. The only written declaration to the European Parliament made by a True Finn MEP also concerns immigration matters. The party underlines the role of national sovereignty in immigration issues:
[True] Finnish immigration policy should be based on the fact that the Finns should always be able to decide for themselves the conditions under which a foreigner can come to our country and reside in our country.
In 2015 the party's immigration programme included demands like:Lowering the refugee quota
Opposition to the planned burden-sharing mechanisms of the Common European Asylum Policy
Opposition to using public funds to advance multiculturalism
Tightening the conditions of family unification by migrants
Allowing the immigration of workers from outside the EU and EEA countries only if they are found to be necessary in a given field in a means test by the Finnish Labour Office
Making sure that migrants living on welfare benefits are not concentrated in the same areas
Outlawing begging on a public place
Ending positive discrimination
Timo Soini signed a pan-European charter against racism in 1998. However, in 2009, before the European Parliament election, Soini refused to sign an anti-racism appeal, saying that the appeal was an attempt to influence the party's choice of candidates (the appeal was drawn up by another political party). All other Finnish parties signed this appeal against racism. In May 2011, following controversies surrounding the remarks of the Finns Party's MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, the Finns Party's parliamentary group issued a statement condemning all racism and discrimination, including affirmative action. The party invited other parties to sign the statement as well, but no other party did so. In December 2011, an opinion poll revealed 51% of Finns Party voters agreed with the statement, "People of certain races are unsuited for life in a modern society."Opposition to the European Union
Opposition to admission to NATO
Reductions in foreign aid
Timo Soini is an outspoken critic of both the EU and NATO, but has stated that if a choice had to be made, NATO is a lesser evil than the EU. The Finns Party favors non-alliance or neutrality, as international activities abroad for the Defence Forces would undermine the defence budget's funds for sustaining a large conscript army of war-time personnel (which is 350,000) to guarantee the defence of all of Finland. When the Finnish Parliament voted to ratify the Ottawa Treaty, banning anti-personnel mines, in November 2011, the Finns Party was the only party unified in opposing the treaty.
The party believes in national sovereignty:
[T]he eternal and unlimited right to always decide freely and independently of all of one's affairs lies only and solely with the people, which forms a nation separate of others.
During the 2011 election the party's judicial programme included:Tougher punishments for violent crime
More resources for police and prosecutors
Opposition to any incorporation of Sharia law into judicial practices
The party chairmanship is divided between four persons, elected at party congress biannually. Timo Soini has been chairman since 1997. The first deputy chairman is Jussi Niinistö, the second deputy chairwoman is Hanna Mäntylä and the third deputy chairman is Sebastian Tynkkynen.
Raimo Vistbacka chaired the Finns Party from 1995 to 1997. The party secretary Timo Soini succeeded Vistbacka as chairman in 1997.
Rolf Sormo followed Timo Soini as party secretary and served from 1997 to 1999. The third party secretary, Hannu Purho, served for eight years, from 1999 to 2007. After him, Timo Soini's parliamentary assistant, Ossi Sandvik, was elected party secretary in 2007. He was succeeded by Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo, who was elected as party secretary in 2013.
The board of the Finns Party has 13 members: the party chairman, the three deputy chairs, the party secretary, chair of the parliamentary group and seven other members.
The foundation Perussuomalaisten tukisäätiö ("The Finns Party support fund") was founded in 1990. It used the name SMP:n tukisäätiö until 2006. The fund borrowed 1.7 million euros from the party in 2012 to buy a 450 m2 commercial property in downtown Helsinki on Yrjönkatu for use as the Party's new headquarters. The Party rented these premises from the fund.
Another fund, Suomen Perusta ("The Foundation of Finland"), was set up in 2012. Its role is to function as a think tank affiliated with the party.
Sampo Terho is the current chairman of the parliamentary group.Raimo Vistbacka (1995–2011; Rural MP 1987–95)
Tony Halme (2003–07)
Markku Uusipaavalniemi (2010–11; Centre MP 2007–10)
James Hirvisaari (2011–13; expelled from the party in 2013)
Jussi Halla-aho (2011–14)
Laila Koskela (2011–14; defected to the Centre Party in 2014)
Lauri Heikkilä (2011–2015)
Anssi Joutsenlahti (2011–15; Rural MP 1979–87)
Johanna Jurva (2011–2015)
Pietari Jääskeläinen (2009–2015)
Pentti Kettunen (2011–2015; Rural MP 1983–87, 1989–91)
Osmo Kokko (2011–2015)
Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner (2007–2015)
Ismo Soukola (2011–2015)
Maria Tolppanen (2011–16; defected to the SDP in 2016)
Reijo Tossavainen (2011–2015)
Kauko Tuupainen (2011–2015)
Veltto Virtanen (2007–2015; Ecological Party MP 1995–1999)
Juha Väätäinen (2011–2015)
Jussi Halla-aho (2014–)
Pirkko Ruohonen-Lerner (2015–)
Timo Soini (2009–11)
Sampo Terho (2011–15)
Timo Soini (1997–)
Raimo Vistbacka (1995–1997)
Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo (2013–)
Ossi Sandvik (2007–2013)
Hannu Purho (1999–2007)
Rolf Sormo (1997–1999)
Timo Soini (1995–1997)
Several True Finns MPs and other party leaders have made public statements which others have interpreted as being racist or otherwise inflammatory. In 2011 True Finn MP James Hirvisaari was fined 1,425 euro by the Kouvola Court of Appeals for comments he made on his blog about Muslims. In 2011 President Tarja Halonen was quoted characterizing some True Finn voters as racist. Her comments were broadly condemned by the True Finn party. A 2011 book by Swedish journalist Lisa Bjurwald made a similar characterization, that the party's leaders support racist positions, while publicly denying that they do so.
In 2011 MP Pentti Oinonen declined an invitation to the presidential Independence Day ball, citing his aversion to seeing same-sex couples dance. In a judgement given on 8 June 2012, MP Jussi Halla-aho, then Chairman of the Administration Committee was found guilty by the Supreme Court of both disturbing religious worship and ethnic agitation for statements he made about Muhammad in his blog.
In October 2013 it was reported that a Finns Party member of parliament, James Hirvisaari, had invited far-right activist Seppo Lehto as his guest to the parliament. During his visit, Lehto made several Nazi salutes, including at least one instance where Hirvisaari took a photo of Lehto performing the Nazi salute from the spectator gallery overlooking the Parliament House's Session Hall. Photos and videos of Lehto performing the Nazi salute in the Parliament House were then distributed on Lehto's public Facebook page and on YouTube. After newspapers broke news of the incident, Speaker of the Parliament Eero Heinäluoma issued a notice of censure to Hirvisaari for the incident and the Finns Party leadership unanimously decided to expel Hirvisaari from the party, citing multiple cases of acting against the party's interest. Hirvisaari is now affiliated with Change 2011.