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Thursday's papers: Flighty Finns Party councillors, Rotenberg's permit problem, and Uusikaupunki renewal

Thursday's newspapers include stories on defections of councillors following the last municipal elections, a row over a Russian oligarch's planned summer house, and efforts to manage the growth of a car factory boom town.

Vaalikuoren tiputtaminen vaaliuuraan.
Image: Kimmo Mäntylä / Lehtikuva

Voting starts soon in Finland's municipal elections, and most people will want their candidate, if elected, to stay the course in their party for the full term. That sometimes doesn't happen. Councillors squabble and fall out and sometimes decide their natural ideological home is among some other grouping.

Helsingin Sanomat publishes a report on councillor defections  since the last local elections in 2012, and it shows the Finns Party's people as the least loyal. Some 112 of their councillors, just under one in ten of the total elected on the party ticket, switched to a new party after the election. The biggest group, 39 councillors, went to the Centre Party. Next came 'other parties' with 23, followed by the National Coalition and SDP on 19 Finns Party defectors apiece.

The National Coalition Party saw the next-largest number of defections, with 51 switching to a new party since 2012, followed by the Centre (49), the SDP (31), the Left Alliance (18), the Christian Democrats (14), the Green Party (6) and the Swedish People's Party (5).

HS interviews two defectors, including one from the Finns party. Jaana Siukola was a Finns Party councillor in Järvenpää until January, when she switched to the Centre Party grouping. She says it was a culmination of factors, but outside pressure was key.

"There is always this labelling as racists, which I am not," said Siukola. "The party saw an influx of extreme elements, which was not sufficiently dealt with by the party leadership."

Hanko holiday home

Helsingin Sanomat reports on a planning dispute in a rural town in south-west Finland, in which one landowner objects to the construction of a shoreside holiday home on a neighbouring plot. Nothing strange about that, you might think. But when the applicant is a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the objecting landowner is the Finnish Defence Forces, the story becomes a little more interesting.

"Nationality has nothing to do with army's desire to stop Russian-born businessman Boris Rotenberg from building accommodation on a plot he owns in Hanko, says the Defence Forces," is how HS opens its article on the dispute. Rotenberg holds Russian, Finnish and Monegasque citizenship and was subjected to sanctions by the United States after Russia annexed Crimea.

The denial is necessary because the Defence Forces have been concerned about Russian land purchases close to military installations. The Rotenberg plot is next to the Syndalen firing range, and army lawyer Satu Sinkkonen says the military's objections are all about the noise from the weapons used on army land, and nothing to do with the owner's nationality.

The project was approved by the municipality of Hanko, but the army has appealed the matter in the administrative courts. The municipality of Hanko says it's keen for a decision, as there are other plots nearby that could be built on--but not if the army manages to block all building in the area.

Uusikaupunki welcomes workers

Business daily Kauppalehti has a piece of reportage from Uusikaupunki, a small town on the west coast that has big hopes of a revival thanks to new investment. The town's population of 15,500 is set to swell in the coming years as the local car plant, owned by Valmet Automotive, hires new staff to fill an order from Mercedes for its new GLC model.

KL arrives for a look at how the town is hoping to persuade some of the influx to stay. Valmet is planning to hire some 1,500 new employees over the next year, bringing its head count in Finland to 3,500. That's a huge number for a town like Uusikaupunki, and the city has plans to accommodate them.

Some 13 new apartment blocks are in the works, half of them designated as rentals. There's also a new daycare centre (crucial for parents working shifts), hopes of a newly electrified passenger rail link to Turku, and road improvements to the harbour.

It all promises to breathe new life into a town that comes to life in the summer as a boating and holiday destination, but has big challenges in finding the workforce to meet the Mercedes order.

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