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Finland's co-ruling Finns party politician Sampo Terho speaks during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland March 6, 2017 REUTERS/Tuomas Forsell

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HELSINKI (Reuters) - A lawmaker who has said Finland is likely to quit the euro in the future will become the country's minister for European affairs, his party said on Thursday.

Sampo Terho is also the frontrunner in the race to lead his Finns party, which is part of Finland's three-party ruling coalition. A party congress will elect the leader in June.

"Regarding the EU, my political line is to strongly defend the national interest," Terho said in a statement.

Terho, who will also take over the culture portfolio in the government, said earlier this month that Finland would struggle to keep its exports competitive while in the euro and was likely to leave the common currency in the coming decades.

His comments took him closer to his nearest rival for the party leadership, hardliner Jussi Halla-aho.

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 it join the government in 2015 but also angered core voters. Its support tumbled in municipal elections this month to 8.8 percent.

Terho, who takes up his new ministerial role in the coming weeks, has said he would be ready to campaign for a referendum on EU membership in the 2019 parliamentary election if a majority of his party backs the idea.

Finland's centre-right government remains committed to the euro and to membership of the European Union. A European Commission survey in February showed 78 percent of Finns backed euro membership.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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