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Wednesday’s papers: Congestion charge opposition grows and PM's "terrible Tuesday" continues

A growing number of greater Helsinki residents oppose proposed traffic congestion charges. Meanwhile, opinions are divided on Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's lack of transparency regarding his family's investments that have benefited from government bailouts or business deals.

Daily newspapers.
Image: E.D.Hawkins / Yle

Main Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat (HS) leads with a story about growing opposition to Helsinki City's proposed traffic congestion charge. In a Gallup carried out by the newspaper, support for the charge decreased during the 2010s -- now only 38 percent of respondents support the levy while 54 percent of respondents oppose it.

Espoo residents are most opposed to the fee, while traffic congestion charge support from Helsinki residents has dropped to 43 percent, whereas in 2010 it was at 52 percent.

Head of the Helsinki City Planning department Mikko Aho says he can’t explain why support for the fee has dropped. “Such traffic congestion charges would greatly help investments in public transportation, which is why implementing them should definitely be further examined,” he told HS. “This is a political hot potato,” he added.

Taxi driver Leif Lindholm, who opposes the fee, told the newspaper that “Helsinki wants to intentionally create traffic congestion in an effort to make public transport more enticing.” Meanwhile, Helsinki resident Minna Alanko, who supports the fee, told HS that “congestion charges would get some people to think more carefully about how and when they use their cars.”

Sipilä saga continues

HS, along with several other newspapers on Wednesday morning, looks at the ongoing saga of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s family connections to companies that have received financial support or business deals from the Finnish state.

Yesterday it was revealed that majority-state-owned energy firm Fortum saved near-bankrupt tech firm Chempolis, which is part-owned by Sipilä’s children. That followed on the heels of the announcement earlier in the day that the PM lobbied for Finnish biotech company in India last February during a trade delegation event and that Chempolis received a 110 million euro deal to build a biorefinery on the final day of the trade event.

While HS reports that Sipilä says he had no part in Fortum’s 6.4 million euro move last October to save Chempolis, the tabloids are less understanding.

Ilta-Sanomat devotes a spread to Sipilä’s “Terrible Tuesday” and cites Yle’s A-studio interview on Tuesday night in which the PM admitted the ongoing brouhaha has affected the public’s image of Sipilä. The paper quoted Sipilä, who said in the A-studio interview, "I have operated so correctly that I don’t have anything to lose.”

Terrible Tuesday

Tuesday’s revelations followed on the investigation launched in late 2016 by the Parliamentary Ombudsman to investigate complaints filed by private individuals concerned about a possible conflict of interest on the part of the PM. Sipilä came under pressure to clarify his role following media reports by Yle and others that Katera Steel -- a company mostly owned by his relatives -- had won a half-a-million euro contract from Terrafame, a taxpayer-funded mining operation in eastern Finland formerly known as Talvivaara. Just two weeks before the deal, government had decided to further bankroll the mine to the tune of 100 million euros.

Tabloid Iltalehti runs a cover image of Sipilä and the question: “Why didn’t you tell the truth?” In its editorial, Iltalehti takes Sipilä to task by pointing out that the rules for running a country are different than the ones for running a business and that the PM’s behaviour has sharply divided opinions in Finland.

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