The great Sipoo landgrab

Never mind the EU summit; Finland's biggest political story of the moment concerns municipal boundaries. Here's the set-up: The city of Helsinki wants to build some affordable housing, what with its high housing prices and all. The problem is that it wants to build that housing on land that currently belongs to the municipality of Sipoo. Sipoo doesn't want to give the land, about 30 square kilometres in area, to Helsinki. Helsinki wants to take it anyway. Now the government needs to make a decision on whether to move the border between Sipoo and Helsinki.

The border move is broadly popular in Helsinki, which happens to be one of the biggest electoral districts in the country, but also unpopular among certain key voting segments. Swedish-speaking Finns and thus the Swedish People's Party don't like it because Sipoo is mostly Swedish-speaking and Helsinki is not. (Update: 40 percent of the population are Swedish-speaking, compared to 6 percent in Helsinki.) Some rural Centre Party supporters don't like it because they fear it will set a precedent according to which the borders of their municipalities might also be changed, but the party's Helsinki branch supports the move. The National Coalition Party and the Green League, both of whose support is centered in urban and mostly Finnish-speaking areas, are fully behind it.

In general the opinion of Helsinki voters would weigh more, but the vote is predicted to be close because four ministers - Brax (Green), Kiviniemi (Centre), Sarkomaa (Coalition), and Vapaavuori (Coalition) - will have to disqualify themselves from the vote because they're involved in Helsinki municipal politics. In a slightly absurd development, other ministers including Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) were ready to disqualify themselves due to having previously expressed an opinion on the matter. In the end common sense won out and they'll be taking part in the vote, which will be held this Thursday.

Helsingin Sanomat, citing government sources, predicts (fi) that the move will be approved. The Swedish People's Party's two ministers, Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre), and possibly a few other Centre ministers will vote nay, but it won't be enough to block the move. Hufvudstadsbladet agrees (fi), noting that the best the opponents can hope for is a tie and in that case Vanhanen's vote will decide - and he's known to support the proposal.


Anonymous said...

A majority of Sibbo's population are no longer Swedish speaking, and haven't been for a good few years. We actually now have the stupid situation where newly moved in Finnish speakers are demanding that century old names of villages that have no Finnish version are changed. Mad. Imagine if 10.000 Swedish speaking Finns suddenly decided to move to Jyväskylä and demand everything changed its name to take them into account.
In any case, the eventual decision was very bad for democracy. Sibbo was unianimously (across both language groups) against being annexed by Helsinki. It seems that might won, rather than democracy, which is a sad precedent. It also is bad in the context of the municipal restructuring going ahead; the remainding part of Sipoo will not have a big enough population to remain independent according to the new rules, whereas Sipoo as it stands today would. In that way, Helsinki effectively is undermining the viability of the whole of Sipoo - not just the bit it wants to annex.
It is also far to say that whilst Helsinki's Greens may have supported the annexation, the party in Sipoo suffered a massive loss of members in the aftermath of the decision.
Hopefully now this undemocratic decision will be overturned in court.

Ari said...

A majority of Sibbo's population are no longer Swedish speaking, and haven't been for a good few years.

Thanks for the correction; I've added a note about it to the post.