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Cool response to Rehn's Guggenheim proposal

Economic affairs minister Olli Rehn's revival of the idea of state funding for the long-debated Guggenheim Helsinki venture has met with a cool reception among politicians from other parties.

Olli Rehn ja Timo Soini.
Olli Rehn ja Timo Soini. Image: Yle

On Friday Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn proposed that the state earmark 40 million euros for the proposed Guggenheim art museum in Helsinki. The leaders of the party blocs in the Helsinki City Council have largely dismissed the idea, while the chair of the Finns Party, Foreign Minister Timo Soini, categorically rejects any state financing.

Writing in his blog on Friday, Soini said that the other two governing parties, the Centre and the National Coalition (NCP), are reconsidering state support for the controversial project, even though it has already been agreed several times that this is not an option.

"Steam out of a cold sauna"

Rehn of the prime minister's Centre Party and Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen of the conservative NCP are trying to revive the idea, writes Soini, using a Finnish bathing metaphor of "trying to get steam out of a cold sauna stove".

Soini says that no state funds will be spent on the project as long as his party is in government, adding that "hopefully this is now clear to our government partners!".

According to Soini, "There will be no money for this venture. It will not even be discussed during the budget framework talks."

National boost?

On Friday Rehn said in the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat that he would raise the Guggenheim issue when the cabinet convenes next week to discuss the 2017 budget plan.

Rehn said that he had discussed the idea with Grahn-Laasonen, and that a local branch of New York's Guggenheim museum would boost business and tourism throughout Finland.

Municipal leaders sceptical

Lasse Männistö, leader of the NCP group in the Helsinki City Council, reacted cautiously to Rehn's proposal, saying "We'll await the government's decision before moving ahead with this process. We have stressed that this cannot be realised with just city funding – it has to be national. The state and the private sector must be involved," he said.

Osku Pajamäki, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party's group in the council, brushed off the proposal as purely political.

"I don't think this is in any way surprising or decisive," he told Yle, noting that 40 million euros would merely be equivalent to the value-added tax due on the project, with the bulk of the cost still to be paid for by the city.

Local Greens leader Otso Kivekäs says that his party believes that the city should pay for less than half of the costs if the venture goes forward.

"How far from reality is he living?"

Left Alliance delegation chair Veronika Honkasalo said bluntly that "no Helsinki money will be put into this project."

She went on to describe Rehn's suggestion as "shocking in a situation where education is facing unprecedented budget cuts. It makes you wonder how far from reality he's living."

Long-running dispute

The Helsinki City Council rejected the initial Guggenheim proposal in 2012. The building would cost an estimated 130-140 million euros, not counting annual running costs. The foundation raising money for the museum is still trying to collect the 27 million euros required by the Guggenheim Foundation in licensing fees for the right to use its name on the museum. The foundation already charged some two million euros for a feasibility study.

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