Most Helsinki residents oppose forced merger with Vantaa
Key politicians say next government could take action
Residents of Helsinki take a generally negative view of mandatory mergers of cities in the Greater Helsinki area. A clear majority reject both the idea of turning Helsinki and Vantaa into a single metropolis as well as a possible larger merger of four cities - Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Kauniainen - if it happens against the will of the residents.
According to a poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by TNS Gallup, only a third of residents of Helsinki were in favour of forcibly merging all four cities. Support for a mandatory merger of Helsinki and Vantaa was even smaller - just one in five.
Men were generally more open to coercion in the matter. Most opposed to forced mergers were ordinary workers and students.
A comparison of political party views indicates that clear majorities of supporters of the Greens and the Social Democrats - 60 per cent - took a negative view. There was more than average support for mandatory mergers among supporters of the National Coalition Party, the Left Alliance, and the True Finns.
The view taken by residents is at variance with that of key Helsinki politicians. They are tired of the obstinacy of the other municipalities, and are open to tough measures. The merger of Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo, and Sipoo is seen as the best option.
The state has both soft and hard means to promote mergers.
“In the next government formation talks there will certainly be agreement on the goals for forming a larger metropolitan area in the Helsinki region. There may be some disagreement on the means to achieve it”, says Minister of Housing Jan Vapaavuori (Nat. Coalition Party).
"However, it is hard to believe that the merger could be launched through gentle guidance alone”, he says, adding that splintered governance is an impediment to the planning of land use, transport, and business policy.
“We need to compete as a metropolis internationally, and not with each other.”
The deputy chairman of the Helsinki City Board, Arto Bryggare (SDP) feels that money is the best way to encourage desires for a merger.
He says that the state subsidy system could be changed in such a way that the Uusimaa region would get a lump sum to distribute.
“The money would be distributed according to the needs and burdens of each local authority."
In his view, a merger would be needed to fight increasing inequality.
“Speaking plainly, the poor suffer most from municipal borders, because the local authorities have had service tasks imposed on them in heaps.”
City Board Chairman Risto Rautava (Nat. Coalition Party) feels that a voluntary merger would be the best option.
“However, it appears that the personal interest felt by decision-makers would seem to determine the rejection of the merger project in Vantaa, for instance.”
According to the second chair of the City Board, Mari Puoskari (Green), a merger of four municipalities would be possible already in three years, if the national government starts to promote the project.
The Green League’s solution to the impact of the move on local democracy would be to establish smaller district councils within the cities.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Vantaa Council rejection of merger study a disappointment for Helsinki (1.2.2011)
Poll: Support grows for municipal merger in Helsink (21.12.2010)
Helsinki to propose study on possible municipal merger in capital region (22.1.2009)