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Finland picks populist EU-skeptic as new foreign minister

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland’s next prime minister Juha Sipila said Wednesday that he has chosen the head of the populist, anti-bailout Finns Party to be foreign minister in a new three-member ruling coalition, the first time the maverick EU-skeptic party is in the government.

Sipila, who started sounding out a new government after his Center Party won parliamentary elections last month, chose the current conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb to be the country’s new finance minister.

Sipila said the main task of the next government is to revive the ailing economy in the midst of a three-year recession. That will involve “huge and painful measures,” including savings and structural reforms amounting to 10 billion euros ($11 billion), with welfare cuts of 4 billion euros by 2019, he said.

Timo Soini, the outspoken chairman of the Finns Party that came second in the April 17 vote, has been known for voicing strong opposition to bailouts and advocating the ouster of Greece from the eurozone, but appeared to tone down the rhetoric Wednesday.

“Finland will promote international stability, peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and equality,” he told reporters, adding that the Nordic countries, EU and NATO will “form the framework for Finland’s international cooperation.”

Sipila said the three men had agreed on the coalition’s policy lines and now it was up to their parties to approve the package before he forms the government in the coming days.

The 54-year-old self-effacing former businessman, who entered politics four years ago, faces a delicate balancing act between Stubb’s staunchly pro-European conservative National Coalition Party and Soini’s anti-establishment party that could demand anti-EU policies and smaller welfare cuts.

Party officials were scheduled to discuss the new government’s policy proposals later Wednesday.

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