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Opposition parties challenge government over energy policy, confidence vote on Friday

The prime minister came under fire for not interrupting her summer holiday to deal with the Uniper crisis, among other issues.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) speaking during the plenary debate initiated by the opposition's interpellation questions. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

The governing parties fell under intense scrutiny over rising energy costs from the opposition during Wednesday's plenary debate in Parliament, following the filing of an interpellation.

The opposition Finns Party, Christian Democrats and Movement Now challenged the government on its energy policy in late September, and presented a motion of no confidence, which is to be put to a vote on Friday.

Speaking at the plenary debate, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) attributed the rising energy costs to Russia, saying that it was crucial that Finland and the rest of Europe cut their dependency on Russian imports, and fossil fuel energy in general.

Finns Party leader Riikka Purra focused her criticism on Finland's green energy policy and the country's reliance on weather-dependent and imported energy.

"Current plans include rolling power cuts, which electricity distribution companies will carry out in two-hour intervals. Seeing that in the year 2023 people's electricity will be getting cut off in Finland, it can be said that climate policy has gone bankrupt," Purra said.

The nationalist leader demanded, among other things, that Finland withdraw from the integrated energy market of the European Union.

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PM criticised for not pausing holidays to handle Uniper crisis

The leading opposition party, the National Coalition Party (NCP), said it did not sign on to the motion with the three other opposition parties, describing the Finns Party's call to leave the EU's common energy market as too eurosceptic.

The pro-business NCP focused instead on the handling of the Uniper negotiations. Uniper, a subsidiary of the majority-state-owned Finnish energy firm Fortum, ran into major financial difficulties due to Russia's curtailment of gas exports last summer.

MP Pia Kauma (NCP) criticised the prime minister for handling the ensuing crisis over text messages instead of pausing her summer break to travel to Berlin and "defend the interests of Finnish taxpayers and investors".

Minister for European Affairs and Ownership Steering Tytti Tuppurainen (SDP) covered for Marin during a critical phase of the negotiations in Berlin. The prime minister said she was in close contact throughout the negotiations despite being on holiday.

"I don't get it – is the issue here that I worked during my holidays?" Marin asked during her response to the criticism.

Kauma noted that Uniper's negotiations resulted in substantial losses in Finland's value of state holdings.

Tuppurainen responded by saying that it was Germany who footed the biggest part of the bill in the end, not Finland. She also criticised Fortum's previous leadership for their "risky" decision to buy Uniper in 2017.

Calls to nationalise energy grid

Movement Now leader Harry Harkimo expressed his support for Purra's motion of no confidence, but added that he agreed with the Left Alliance's position on nationalising electricity transmission networks.

The Left Alliance suggested that Finland should completely buy out energy firm Fortum – which is currently about 51 percent state-owned – and nationalise the entire electricity grid. Left MP Mai Kivelä justified the proposal by saying that natural monopolies should not be controlled by entities that could manipulate their status for profit.

Harkimo said that the transmission networks should be bought back into national ownership for security reasons.

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