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THE RESIGNATION OF THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT dominated international headlines about Finland this week, with editorials displaying a mixture of surprise, concern, and bafflement at the decision.

Juha Sipilä’s resignation over a failure to deliver promised wide-ranging reforms to health and social care has been described by the international press as cynical, justified, and unnecessary in equal measure. 

In other news, recent developments in the proposed high-speed railway link between Helsinki and Tallinn have begun to gain traction in the international press, with particular attention being afforded to the fact that China’s state-owned companies are emerging as a major source of funding.

Meanwhile, the revelation that self-driving buses will soon be hitting the street of Espoo and Helsinki was also the source of several pieces.

 

Finland’s government just made its most popular move: to resign

Bloomberg

Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipila last week made the most popular decision of his four-year term: he resigned.

A poll by the country’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, showed six in ten Finns backed his choice. That’s almost double the cabinet’s highest approval rating, 36 percent, attained shortly after it took office in 2015.

Many of the government’s policies have been highly divisive: budget cuts, a labor pact to boost competitiveness that made people work more for less, penalizing the jobless people who fail to show they are actively seeking to improve their situation, and opening up taxis to increased competition. Resistance to its failed reform on health and social care was widespread, also within the governing parties.

The Kantar TNS survey, published on Tuesday, had 1,084 responses through an Internet panel and a margin of error of about 3 percentage points. The government continues in a caretaker role until a new coalition is formed after a general election on April 14.

 

Original article appeared in Bloomberg on 13/03/19 and can be found here.



Finland’s Sipila hopes to turn crisis into election reboot

Politico

Finland's Juha Sipilä is trying to reboot his premiership a month ahead of parliamentary elections that could see his liberal party cede ground to the Social Democrats.

Having failed to deliver a wide-ranging reform package, Sipilä, a former IT executive, hit the off switch on Friday morning and told President Sauli Niinistö he would resign.

“I have said that my government works according to the principle of do or die,” he told a news conference in Helsinki. “I have come to the conclusion that my government must submit its resignation.”

But by the end of the day, the power was back on. Niinistö had reappointed Sipilä as caretaker leader.

Now that the government coalition has officially collapsed, the parties that formed it may also find they have more freedom to campaign to their own individual strengths and move the debate away from their failed reform efforts and poor showings in opinion polls.

With its rural roots, the Center Party, for example, has typically appealed to voters by promising to decentralize power and support farmers. Its platform for the April vote centers around promoting equality in all regions of Finland as well as supporting families and fighting climate change.

“The image of a fresh start might help,” said Teivo Teivainen, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki.

 

Original article appeared in Politico on 11/03./19 and can be found here.



Finland’s outgoing premier may bow out as party chair

The New York Times

Finland's outgoing prime minister, who abruptly tendered the resignation of his center-right government just weeks before the general election, said Saturday he won't seek to remain as chairman of his party next year if support continues to decline.

Juha Sipila, now heading a caretaker government in the Nordic country, told Finnish public broadcaster YLE that polls showing 14-percent support for the ruling Center Party meant "that I won't for sure be running as a (chairman) candidate with that kind of support" at the 2020 party congress.

Sipila had headed a three-party coalition government since 2015, deciding in a surprise move Friday to step down because of the Cabinet's failure to push through a major social and health reform package.

The plan, which has been worked on by previous governments since 2006, is meant to tackle an aging population, improve efficiency and reduce public spending by 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) by 2029. It pledged to offer Finnish municipalities and regions larger freedom to choose between public and private service providers for citizens' social and health care.

The 57-year-old former business executive and entrepreneur has chaired the centrist Center Party — one of the big three main political parties in Finland — since 2012.

Finland, a Nordic country of 5.5 million people, will assume the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Main opposition leader Antti Rinne, head of the Social Democrats, has expressed concern that Friday's Cabinet resignation leaves Finland without a government for months and cuts short preparation for the EU presidency with a large agenda of key issues such as Brexit.

 

Original article appeared in The New York Times on 09/03/19 and can be found here.



The Chinese quotient behind the financing of the world's longest undersea tunnel

Freight Waves

The Tallinn tunnel, connecting the Estonian capital with Helsinki, the Finnish capital, has secured funding to the tune of $17 billion. The tunnel will run through the Gulf of Finland for about 60 miles, and would be the longest undersea rail tunnel once construction is completed. And due to the considerable distance covered, the tunnel necessitates the creation of at least one artificial island along its length.  

Today, transit between the two coastal cities is possible via a 30-minute flight, or by the numerous ferries that shuttle between the borders. A tunnel between the two capitals is mutually beneficial, not just making it easier for people to transit faster, but by increasing the efficiency of freight transport. Finland is currently Estonia’s largest export partner, with the trade portfolio being Estonia’s most diversified as yet.

FinEst Bay Area Development is heading the tunnel development project, and it announced its funding raise from China’s Touchstone Capital Partners Ltd., that would cover the entire cost of construction.

However, observing the project at-large, it is interesting to note the Chinese funding that is going into yet another construction program on the European mainland. It pays to keep a tab on the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and the portfolio of construction projects it has financed over the last decade. The investments seem to be part of a greater plan of world logistics dominance – quite indicative of how the Chinese extend their goodwill at the commencement of such infrastructural programs, only to seek decisive geographic advantages later on.

In South Asia and Africa, the Chinese have been systematically driving “modern colonization,” through its debt-trap diplomacy – by providing billions of dollars to countries in dire need of infrastructure financing, and turning predatory when various states cannot repay the debt in time. This has enabled China to capture Sri Lanka’s deep-sea Hambantota port and it is on the verge of taking control of Kenya’s strategically important Mombasa port as the country is at the brink of defaulting on its $2.25 billion debt to China.

The Chinese footsteps into European territory have also been well-documented. The Chinese shipping giants Cosco Shipping and China Merchants Port Holdings have opened up their deep pockets to take over the terminal in Zeebrugge, the second-biggest port in Belgium after Antwerp. The Chinese also operate the Greek port of Piraeus, one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean region and the maritime gateway to Europe.

China is now financing the construction of a high-speed railway between Budapest and Belgrade, the capitals of Hungary and Serbia respectively. The multi-billion dollar investment across Europe’s most impoverished region could possibly be another episode in the debt-trap diplomacy series unless the European Union (EU) bails out the countries in the event of a financial catastrophe.

 

Orginal article appeared in Freight Waves on 11/03/19 and can be found here.



Muji’s self-driving bus is hitting the streets this spring

Curbed

A few months back, Muji announced it would be getting into the autonomous car game with Gacha, a rounded all-weather minibus designed to shuttle people around city streets.

Now, it appears the buses are ready to make their real-world debut in Finland later this spring. The bus will launch its test program in the Finnish city of Espoo with the aim of rolling out to Helsinki, Vantaa, and other Finnish cities later this year.

Muji developed Gacha with the Finnish technology company Sensible 4, and no surprise here, but it looks like a bus from the future. Muji imbued the vehicle with its minimalist DNA, creating clean, streamlined interiors and large windows. Gacha stretches 30 feet long and can hold up to 16 passengers. It has an LED strip that wraps around the front and back like a ribbon and serves as the headlights and an announcement ticker.

The bus’ maximum speed is 25 mph, and it’s outfitted with a suite of sensors, cameras, and GPS software that will be put to the test in the coming months. Muji says the bus can operate on a fixed, predetermined path, “just like an invisible railway,” or it can respond to user requests and choose an optimized route. It’s not entirely clear how Gacha will operate at launch and how much human intervention will be involved.

 

Original article appeared in Curbed on 14/03/19 and can be found here.

 

Adam Oliver Smith - HT (@adamoliversmith)

Image Credit: Lehitkuva