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Finnish opposition slams government over rail reform

The government faces a test of strength in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon as the opposition seeks a confidence vote over planned rail reforms.

Harry Wallin
Ex-railwayman Harry Wallin led the opposition charge. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Finland's five opposition parties have filed an interpellation challenging the government's plan to break up the State Railways VR and open the train sector to competition.

Since last summer's split in the Finns Party, the two government parties and the newly-formed Blue Reform group hold 106 seats in the 200-strong legislature.

On Tuesday, speakers from the opposition parties slammed the government's railways plan, unveiled in August by Transport Minister Anne Berner.

MPs call for transparency, clarity

The first signatory of the interpellation was Social Democrat MP Harry Wallin, a former train engine driver. He condemned the reform plan, saying it was hard to see how the government aims for it to succeed.

"It looks as if the government has decided to auction off this state company's business operations," Wallin said.

MPs from the Greens, the Finns Party, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People's Party also criticised the plan, arguing that it would benefit foreign investors while harming Finnish train passengers. They also charged ministers with keeping details about the plan secret and issuing contradictory and unclear statements about it.

PM cites climate, comfort

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä of the Centre Party admitted that the government's project is ideologically-motivated, listing a number of reasons for it.

"We want to fend off climate change, we want to reduce transport emissions, we want to advance labour force mobility, we want to advance regional access and we want to advance the Finns' travel comfort," he told MPs.

Sipilä argued that Finland's rail sector is still at a 1990 level and therefore in need of reform.

"We have dithered over this for nearly 30 years. Isn't it finally time to honestly say that the measures that have been tried haven't worked? A new method is increasing competition. It has been shown to be a workable measure in Sweden and Britain, for instance," the premier said.

Sipilä said that the rail network will be maintained in future using the money raised by selling off state-owned rail assets.

MPs reconvene at 2 pm Wednesday to vote on the interpellation and confidence in the government.

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