Finnish PM-elect starts talks on Portugal bailout

Finland's prime minister-elect delayed government formation talks on Tuesday, throwing more uncertainty into the eurozone's plans for Portugal's bailout and other financial aid to cash-strapped member countries.

The caretaker finance minister said he will begin discussions immediately with parliamentary groups and demand lawmakers in the new Parliament decide speedily on Finland's support for Portugal and other aid measures, even if they reject them.

"If the majority in Finnish Parliament is of the opinion that it's in Finland's interest to overturn all European decisions then that's what I shall go and tell them in Brussels," Jyrki Katainen told reporters, referring to a May 16 meeting of eurozone finance ministers in the Belgian capital.

If the small Nordic country, where government decisions on major EU policy are subjected to parliamentary approval, votes against a Portuguese bailout program, the European Financial Stability Facility would be paralyzed. If it merely abstains, the remaining eurozone countries could in theory go ahead with a bailout without Finnish contributions.

Katainen's conservative National Coalition Party, a strong supporter of the European Union and the 17-member eurozone, won the April 17 Finnish election, leaving him the task of forming a new majority government. But the nationalist True Finns party, which opposes bailouts, made sizable gains in the election, sending fears through Europe that Finland could derail the 17-nation eurozone plans.

True Finns leader Timo Soini said his party, as the third-largest political force in the country, wants to be in the next ruling coalition but will continue to oppose bailouts.

Despite the opposition from a potential government partner, Katainen was upbeat.

"We have begun exploring the possibilities of a new government. The mood has been good, the mood has been constructive," Katainen said. "There's no cause for alarm. We'll be able to get a government together."

Katainen, who earlier demanded that potential coalition members accept Finland's commitments for aid to Portugal as a precondition to joining the government, declined to comment Tuesday if the True Finns could be a member in the next government.

He said the government formation talks would begin officially on May 18, more than a week later than earlier planned.