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Cabinet in crisis after Centre votes with opposition on Nature Conservation Act

The government crisis hit just after Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) left for a visit to Australia and New Zealand.

The leader of the Greens' parliamentary group, Atte Harjanne, said that the Centre's actions had been so "appalling" that the chairs of the governing parties must discuss the issue. Image: Lehtikuva
Yle News

The Finnish government was plunged into crisis on Tuesday when one of its main partners, the Centre, allied with the opposition to undermine the Nature Conservation Act, despite having earlier approved its wording.

The government crisis hit as Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) is on a visit to New Zealand and Australia. She is due to return on Saturday.

The Centre voted with the opposition Finns Party and National Coalition to make changes to the Act in the Environment Committee, saying it wanted stronger protection for landowners.

The changes were passed by a margin of 9–8, with MPs from the other four governing parties filing a dissenting opinion.

The Centre and opposition voted to remove two clauses from the law in an effort to boost protection for landowners, and also weakened protection for vulnerable springs and streams.

The long-prepared bill was one of the main legislative priorities for the Environment Ministry during the four-year legislative term, which ends in March.

The Centre Party cabinet ministers – including the party chair, Finance Minister and Deputy PM Annika Saarikko – signed off on the original wording of the bill last spring.

According to the daily Iltalehti, the committee's chair, Hanna Kosonen of the Centre, "threw the representatives of the other government parties out of Tuesday's meeting".

"My understanding of the events is that, in practice, the governing parties were in the corridor while the Centre and the opposition agreed on the matter," the leader of the Greens' parliamentary group, Atte Harjanne, told the paper.

The Centre's actions enraged its government partners, whose leaders on Tuesday accused the Centre of deception and disengaging from cooperation.

In her blog, the chair of the Centre parliamentary group, Eeva Kalli, argued that the Centre MPs' actions were justified in terms of property protection and the fair distribution of the costs of nature conservation.

The parliamentary groups of at least the Centre and the Greens met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the future of government cooperation. The Greens' meeting lasted for almost two hours.

Tuppurainen: Cooperation with Centre can continue

After the Centre undermined the Nature Conservation Act, the Greens halted negotiations on an agricultural support package. It was demanded by the Centre – which has close ties to the farmers' union – during the previous week's dispute over reform of the Sámi Parliament Act, which the Centre opposed, also partly due to concern over land usage rights.

The government submitted the long-debated indigenous rights bill to Parliament despite the Centre's opposition to it.

The Minister of Europe and Ownership Steering, Tytti Tuppurainen of Marin's SDP, told Yle on Tuesday afternoon that she believed government cooperation with the Centre could continue but added that "this doesn't look good".

According to the chair of the Left Alliance, Minister of Education Li Andersson, the Centre's move was a flagrant violation of the government's ground rules.

The Swedish People's Party chair, Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson, described the situation as "difficult".

Harjanne: Centre actions "appalling"

According to Greens parliamentary leader Harjanne, the Centre's actions were so "appalling" that the chairs of the governing parties must discuss the issue.

"This is a matter of such a scale that the five have to deal with it. We and three other functional parties are in the government, but one has played tricks today that are incomprehensible for a government partner," he said.

All other issues are now on hold until then, such as the agricultural support package and next year's supplementary budget, said Harjanne.

"It's hard to see how anything can progress until this situation is looked at. The Centre has now pushed the government into a situation where there is no confidence that any agreement will be kept."

Harjanne hinted that the timing of Centre's move against the Nature Conservation Act it was not a coincidence – as it came on the day that Marin began a five-day trip to Australia and New Zealand, the first ever by a Finnish prime minister.

He declined to say whether Marin should return home early, whether her physical presence would be required for a meeting with the other government party leaders – or whether the Greens might leave the government.

"Let's see where this goes. However, we are committed to government cooperation," he said.

According to Harjanne, whether the Greens and the Centre can still remain together in government depends on whether the government parties are able to create a common picture of the situation and agree on issues and stick to the agreement.

Without the Centre, the remaining four parties would only have 82 seats in the 200-seat Parliament – and exactly four months until the scheduled end of the legislative term on 29 March.

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