Vantaa City Council narrowly passes study on effects of merger with Helsinki
The City Council of Vantaa voted on Monday in favour of a study on the benefits and disadvantages of a possible municipal merger with Helsinki.
The decision was reached at a meeting which dragged on until nearly midnight. The vote was close - 37 to 30.
Voting in favour of the merger were majorities of council members of the National Coalition Party, the Greens, the Centre, and the Christian Democrats. Voting against it were the Social Democrats, the True Finns, and the Left Alliance.
The meeting was more electrified than usual, both in the chamber itself and in the gallery.
At the beginning of the session the galleries were full, but the crowd thinned out somewhat as the meeting dragged on. After the first speech that defended the independence of Vantaa, speaker Antti Lindtman (SDP) had to remind the members of the public that it is not customary to give applause at meetings of the City Council.
In more than three hours of debate, opponents of a merger study were the most vocal.
The speeches appealed mainly to the emotions.
“These are matters where both emotions and sense are involved”, said Markku J. Jääskeläinen (SDP).
In several speeches, the prospect of a study on a merger was seen as flirting with Helsinki. There were many references to Helsinki’s expansion into Sipoo.
There were also references to history. The Deputy Chairman of the City Board, Jukka Hako (SDP), noted that there were moves afloat already 40 years ago to link parts of Vantaa and Espoo with Helsinki. No border changes were enacted, but cooperation in the Helsinki region was initiated, and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV) was established.
He feels that the Social Democrats should continue along these lines in the future as well.
There were a few jabs at Tapani Mäkinen (Nat. Coalition Party), the Chairman of the City Board, including hints that he wants to become the mayor of a new City of Helsinki-Vantaa.
Much of the debate involved back-and-forth arguments between supporters and opponents of a merger impact study on whether or not evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of a municipal merger constituted a first step on a slippery slope toward such a union.
Council members of the National Coalition Party gave assurances that the body was not voting on a merger as such, but rather a study to ascertain its feasibility. “Read the proposal of the City Board”, urged Heikki Heinimäki, a member of the board.
“Why flirt with a partner if you don’t want to join?” asked Mika Niikko of the True Finns.
With its decision, the City Council of Vantaa authorised civil servants to commission two studies.
Yet to be resolved is who is to ascertain the benefits and disadvantages of a possible merger, how it is to be done, and how the report on cooperation of the four cities of the Helsinki metropolitan area and the 14 other municipalities in the region is to be drawn up. Also to be determined is the price of the study.
The Vantaa City Council is to decide on all of this in June.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki to propose study on possible municipal merger in capital region (22.1.2009)
Vantaa City Board gives its consent to proposed study to assess pros and cons of Helsinki merger (31.3.2009)
Helsinki Mayor: Helsinki metropolis would provide Vantaa citizens with better services (24.3.2009)
Helsinki gets go-ahead to annex southwest Sipoo (15.1.2008)