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Tuesday's papers: EU election race, bump in govt talks, pink house hassle

A fresh newspaper poll puts the centre-right NCP and populist Finns Party in the lead in the EU Parliament election campaign.

Puheenjohtajat Juha Sipilä (kesk.), Pekka Haavisto (vihr.), Anna-Maja Henriksson (rkp), hallitustunnustelija Antti Rinne (sdp) ja puheenjohtaja Li Andersson (vas.) hallitusneuvotteluissa
Leaders of the five parties involved in government formation talks. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

A voter survey commissioned by the daily Helsingin Sanomat projects a win for the centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) in Sunday's vote for the EU Parliament, followed by the populist Finns Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Compared to results in the 2014 vote, the Greens are projected to make the most gains, however, with losses for the Centre Party. Support is also up from five years ago for the Finns Party and the SDP.

Of the just over 2,000 voters polled May 6-18 in mainland Finland, 16.3 percent gave their backing to the Finns Party. If this actually translates into votes, the Finns Party will narrowly miss getting a third MEP elected. It would, though, have a representative waiting in the wings to take a seat if and when the UK withdraws from the European Union.

At 20.1 percent, the NCP has a comfortable lead in the poll, but possibly its worst showing ever in EU Parliament elections. Traditionally, the NCP has been more popular with voters in these elections than in national elections.

Devil in the details

Most papers, including Tampere's Aamulehti, report that five-party talks aimed at forming a new government here in Finland hit a bump on Monday over objections by the Left Alliance to selling off state-owned property to finance major transport infrastructure projects.

That party's chair Li Andersson called a time-out Monday morning. Leaders in the talks declined to brief the media on the situation, leading to speculation that the talks had run aground. By early afternoon, all the parties were back at the table.

Although the general framework for economic development seems to have been settled, Andersson did say that there are still more issues to be ironed out than appeared to be last week.

As Aamulehti points out, Centre Party chair Juha Sipilä has backed the establishment of a state-financed project company to create high-speed rail services between Helsinki and Tampere, Helsinki and Turku, and from eastern Finland to the capital.

One of the redline issues in government formation talks for the Centre Party is its demand for a balanced state budget by 2023.

Schengen still ok, sort of

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat carries a denial by Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho that his party is pushing for Finland to pull out of the open-border Schengen Area.

Drawing on a dispatch by the STT Finnish News Agency, the paper reports that the Finns Party does want to change Schengen rules to make it easier for member states to impose border checks. Preventing illegal immigration, said Halla-aho, should be a valid reason to check passports at borders within the Schengen zone.

At present, Schengen Area regulations allow for temporary border checks under special circumstances. Both Denmark and Sweden imposed border controls in 2015, citing a massive influx of refugees.

Halla-aho's remarks came after one of his party's EU Parliament election candidates, Olli Kotro, gave an interview to the Kremlin-oriented Eurasia Daily saying that he supports Finland's exit from the Schengen Area, and described it as his party's position.

Kotro also called for special visa arrangements between Finland and Russia.

According to Savon Sanomat's article, Jussi Halla-aho stated that the Finns Party has had a consistent, negative stance on the issue of a visa-free arrangement between Finland and Russia.

Red tape over pink house

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat is one of the papers that reports on a case of bureaucracy run wild in the small municipality of Vesilahti, about 30km south of Tampere, where homeowner Katri Hakola is facing a 5,000-euro fine for the offence of painting her house pale pink.

Hakola bought her small wooden house in Vesilahti five years ago. Built in 1949, the house was in disrepair, and she decided to replace the siding and paint it. She filed notice of the renovations with the municipality and got to work.

The house was already half painted when she received a notice that the colour she had chosen, pink, is not an approved colour in the building code for the type of house Hakola owns.

She went ahead and finished it anyway, and filed for a permit to keep it that way. Her request was denied.

Hakola says she's been told that her house "visibly stands out from its surroundings and attracts attention", in a "scenically sensitive area".

Now, following a three-year battle, the local board of construction and environment has threatened her with a 5,000-euro fine if she doesn't repaint in a colour it approves. Hakola says she is planning an appeal, pointing out that official colour preferences are a guideline, not a law.

The affair, which has gained wide-spread attention on social media, is becoming quite an embarrassment for local officials, says Ilta-Sanomat.

Municipal director Tuomas Hirvonen made a surprise visit to the pink house over the weekend to talk with Hakola. He told the paper that while his visit did not mean that officials have changed their decision, progress is being made and a "certain process" has been set in motion.

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