Finnish Politics This Week… Things Municipal 

Municipal elections are coming and every Tom, Dick and Harry, from Influencers to Bloggers, from Current to Past Politicians are starting to compete for voter attention.

Most of them have little idea about what they are planning to do if elected. Helsinki will have a new mayor from one of the elected candidates – the current mayor is off to the delights of the Finnish Olympic Committee. The rush to be the front runner is like a dash to pick up banknotes when an oligarch throws a big pile of notes into the air. Our typical oligarchs come from the real estate developers, banks, supermarkets and other big companies who rely on lucrative public contracts and zoning rights with the city.

Even today, voters in Helsinki are being subjected to Trump-like smear campaigns. One group is against left-wing supporters who only want to see more housing subsidies, another complains about car-hugging right-wing conservatives, or tree-hugging greens that want to ban cars, while  xenophile Neo-liberal nationalists want small government and deny climate change. The list is long and completely hopeless and has been going on for years before and after every election.

From the media’s viewpoint, municipal politics is the lowest form of politics because the local free media papers depend heavily on advertising from the same group of city supporters mentioned above, and the national press has more important matters to deal with, as well as securing the same advertisers… 

For these reasons you cannot expect to read many critical or analytical articles from investigative journalists on municipal affairs. The public broadcaster makes gallant efforts, but they too are being ring-fenced by politicians and commercial media.

The major questions for Helsinki, the capital, and its surrounding cities, Espoo and Vantaa, are the public transport train and tram lines networks that connect the communities, and the matter of affordable housing. 

New apartments in Helsinki cost between €5,000 and €15,000 a square meter, while the other two cities that are located within a 25 km radius of Helsinki’s centre normally cost between €3,000 and €5000 a square meter. Naturally you can find really expensive homes in great locations that cost much more, but they are for the 1% and not the remaining 99%.

The high cost of apartments in Helsinki is attributable to the big land banks that the city and the big construction companies control. There never seems to be enough affordable homes, but plenty of more expensive ones. This is a major stumbling block for workers who want to move to Helsinki, and this limits the supply of labour. The going price for a reasonable home in the countryside outside any major city is between €900 to €2,000 a square meter. The cost of moving to the capital with a low starting salaries gives little incentive for making the move for a young family of four. It is demanding to take on a big mortgage that leaves little spare cash for anything but the bare necessities.

The only other big topic for Helsinki that has been around for the last fifty years is about building a tunnel and a long bridge. Both are expected to cost double or triple the first announced costs, just like the renovation of our 1938 Olympic Stadium which has almost doubled already! 

The good news is that our cities have great networks of public transport, excellent free schools and public healthcare. During the pandemic many have moved out of the city centres to the outlying countryside where they enjoy cleaner air and more space. 

It is a sure thing that these elections will change very little because things move slowly in these sleepy circles, and, like national politics, coalitions are a necessity. 

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