Finnish parliament to debate euro zone exit in following weeks

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's parliament will debate in the coming weeks whether the country should quit the euro, an official said on Thursday, following a petition on the issue signed by more than the required 50,000 citizens. The debate is very unlikely to lead to Finland's exit from the common currency but the decision to hold such a debate demonstrates a high level of dissatisfaction among Finns with their country's economic performance. The petition, signed by more than 53,000 people, demands a referendum on leaving the euro. "We haven't decided the date yet but a preliminary debate will likely be held during a plenary session (of the parliament) in the coming weeks," said Johanna Sarhimaa, parliamentary secretary. The Finnish economy grew by just 0.4 percent last year after three years of contraction, hit by high labor costs, the decline of Nokia's former phone business and a recession in neighboring Russia. The center-right government is struggling to balance public finances and improve export competitiveness through 'internal devaluation', including cuts to workers' benefits, amid opposition from unions. Paavo Vayrynen, a Finnish member of the European Parliament who launched the anti-euro initiative, compared the country's performance to that of Finland's non-euro neighbor Sweden, which has grown much faster in recent years. "We should revive our economy by leaving the euro zone and reinstating our own currency (with a floating exchange rate). This will restore our competitiveness," he said as he handed the petition to Maria Lohela, the speaker of parliament. "If the parliament supports the petition, it would urge the government to prepare a law for arranging a referendum." Despite the initiative, a Eurobarometer poll from November showed 64 percent of Finns backed the euro. The coalition government remains officially committed to eurozone membership. (Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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