A train and passengers at Pasila in Helsinki on 31 October 2023. The Finnish government has made an in-principle decision that would enable it to reduce its ownership stakes in a number of companies, including VR. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH GOVERNMENT on Thursday approved an in-principle decision on ownership steering policy, hinting that it is willing to explore cashing in on a number of corporate assets even at the expense of majority control.

The decision would lower the minimum ownership requirement from 100 to 50.1 per cent for Finavia and VR and from 50.1 to 33.4 per cent for Gasum and Posti.

The government is also proposing an adjustment that would enable a complete divestment from rental housing constructor A-Kruunu. For Kemijoki, a majority state-owned producer of hydro and regulating power, the requirement will contrastively be raised from 0 to 33.4 per cent.

The final decision on any changes in ownership stakes is made by parliament.

Minister of European Affairs and Ownership Steering Anders Adlercreutz (SFP) stressed to YLE on Thursday that the proposal should not be interpreted as a sign of a desire to dramatically reduce its stake in the companies, adding that there have been no “decisions, guidelines or deliberation” about the ownership arrangements.

The government is, though, looking to make it possible to lower its stake in a number of companies to the extent that does not jeopardise its ownership goals.

“It’s a completely other discussion on whether the government will do something that reduces its ownership stake [in a particular company] to the lower limit,” he commented to the public broadcasting company.

Jari Tanskanen, an economic journalist at YLE, wrote on Thursday that the adjustments are inspired by experiences in Spain, where the government floated 49 per cent of shares in the wholly state-owned airport operator AENA in 2015. Proceeds from the float were three times higher than expected.

In Spain, the privatisation has also increased passenger numbers as new owners have succeeded in enhancing the appeal of regional airports to airlines.

The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications has commissioned an assessment that found that the government could bring in around 800 million euros by floating part of its shares in Finavia.

Finavia operates a total of 20 airports in Finland, including the newly renovated Helsinki Airport.

With the majority of foreign visitors flying to Helsinki, Lapland or Tampere, tourism industry companies in other parts of the country have been reluctant to make investments in their offering, wrote Tanskanen. Were Finavia to have a minority owner, though, it could be in its interest to turn as many a regional airport as possible into a profitable operation – a possibility that could increase visitor volumes in, for example, Finnish Lakeland.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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