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Helsinki Mayor lambasts government plans to enact regional administration reform

Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori continues his campaign to undermine the Finnish government's plans to create larger administrative bodies to oversee regional governance. He says he finds it entirely possible that the centre-right coalition's real goal might be to create 18 super-municipalities, and phase out local decision-making altogether. 

Jan Vapaavuori
Jan Vapaavuori appeared on Yle's Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday. Image: Yle

Jan Vapaavuori says he believes the Finnish government's regional reform plans will push the country in the opposite direction than the rest of the world is taking. Helsinki's Mayor says the role of major cities is being expanded everywhere else on the planet, but the current government seems dead set on reducing the decision-making power of urban areas.

The government says the objective of the reform is to "coordinate and simplify" regional state administration, and the current proposal would establish 18 "counties" for this purpose.

"Experienced and competent politicians will be appointed to lead these new elected councils, and from day one they will be thinking about how they can take more power from the municipalities," the Mayor predicted in a Saturday morning interview.

He projects that this will then lead to a power struggle about what responsibilities should be allowed to remain with the municipalities that will spread out over several subsequent elections. Vapaavuori says he fears that the municipalities will eventually be phased out altogether.

"Some civil servants in the ministry even admit this freely; that the goal is to slowly move towards a model with just 18 municipalities. In my opinion, this is not sensible," he said.

Cities should keep their administrative power

As mayor of Finland's capital city, he says the role of cities as engines of growth and wellbeing should be strengthened and not weakened.

"It's in the best interests of the entire country that the metropolitan area is doing well and stays competitive in international rankings. This year Helsinki contributed 289 million euros in tax revenue to Finland's coffers, next year over 300," he said on Saturday.

This is not the first time Vapaavuori has publicly criticised the government's idea for regional reform. On October 5, the Helsinki Mayor called the leaders of Finland's 21 largest cities to a working dinner to discuss the looming changes. The next day the group released a unanimous joint public statement calling for government to alter its plans to introduce elected regional governments.

"The government  is seeking to enact the most sweeping administrative reforms in history, and the largest cities' viewpoint is not visible at all," Vapaavuori said at the time.

Reform would bring more taxes, too

Mayor Vapaavuori, who is a high-profile member of the government coalition's conservative National Coalition Party, also criticises the state decision to link the regional administration reform to the reform of Finland's system social and health care services.

He says he supports the so-called "sote" social and health reform, but thinks the regional reform should be abandoned, as it would only lead to more bureaucracy, elections and taxes.

Even the slated social and health care reforms would make things worse for Helsinki residents, he says, as administration for these vital services would be transferred from the city to the region of Uusimaa.  

"Helsinki's services are on average somewhat better than those in Uusimaa, so our level of service would diminish." 

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