Lex Malmi and alternative facts

1. General

The Citizens' initiative to introduce a law for Helsinki-Malmi aerodrome (Lex Malmi) strives to keep Malmi airport in aviation use contrary to the desires of the City of Helsinki. The airport along with the surrounding land has long been in State tenure and is listed by the National Board of Antiquities for its nationally important cultural historical environment (RKY), but Helsinki intends to extend residential construction to the RKY area also. It has also been suggested that the airport entity could qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The initiative was first addressed in plenary session on February 23, 2017, whereupon it was referred to the Transport and Communications Committee. In the preliminary debate 38 MPs (ministers included) delivered a total of 75 official speeches (one can unearth a Lex Malmi supporter even among the hecklers). I will pass on reviewing the speeches on axis in favour - against. However, the "compartmentalisation" has called for some pondering at times.

I decided to count as supporters those who think that potential complications of the initiative can be solved one way or another (for example, by resorting primarily to negotiation on land swaps and legislation perhaps as the alternative). Opponents, in turn, were quite easily detected as well as those with open minds. The complete silence of the Greens and the Left Alliance MPs also caught my eye, but I do not second-guess their motives at this point.

2. Lex Malmi supporters (30 MPs and three ministers)

Supporters can be subdivided into two categories for their line of reasoning. MPs Antti Kaikkonen (Centre), Stefan Wallin (Swedish; he also refers to the partial involuntary annexation of Sipoo municipal territory with Helsinki and its Malmi connection), Ari Jalonen (Finns), Mirja Vehkaperä (Centre), Olavi Ala-Nissilä (Centre), Hanna Kaisa Heikkinen (Centre), Lasse Hautala (Centre), Jari Ronkainen (Finns), Sami Savio (Finns) and Joakim Strand (Swedish) highlight only the significance of aviation.

Timo Heinonen (National Coalition), Tom Packalén (Finns), Sampo Terho (Finns), Jaana Pelkonen (National Coalition), Antero Laukkanen (Christian Democrats), Kalle Jokinen (National Coalition), Markku Eestilä (National Coalition), Mikko Alatalo (Centre), Mats Löfström (Swedish), Leena Meri (Finns), Markku Pakkanen (Centre), Ari Torniainen (Centre), Kaj Turunen (Finns), Eero Suutari (National Coalition), Mikko Savola (Centre), Pauli Kiuru (National Coalition), Mika Kari (Social Democrats), Pekka Puska (Centre), Ritva Elomaa (Finns) and Arto Pirttilahti (Centre) support the initiative also, on cultural grounds.

I count Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) and Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner (Centre) also as supporters. Neither one clearly opposes and both mainly  underline the importance of Parliament as provider of ways to save the airport (Sipilä even considers the termination decision of 2014 as a mistake). And Agriculture and Environment Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen stresses that the letters of intent between the State and the metropolitan municipalities do not prevent preserving the airport as a functioning entity.

3. Lex Malmi opponents (three MPs)

Joona Räsänen (Social Democrats) is most lucid with his negative attitude. He considers the initiative, among other things, as an alternative means of appealing a planning decision, violation of municipal self-government and upsetting the separation of powers in his three speeches. Suna Kymäläinen (Social Democrats) shares a roughly equal negative view, although she finally concludes that the initiative deserves objective, thorough and adequate treatment.

In turn, an interchange of its own kind takes place between Sinuhe Wallinheimo (National Coalition) and Lex Malmi supporter Joakim Strand (Swedish), where Wallinheimo yearns debate on amending and tightening criteria of the citizens' initiative institution (because, for example, the fate of Malmi airport is a matter of municipal self-government). Strand replies (partly in Swedish):

"--- The question is understandably not completely uncomplicated if one has municipal planning autonomy in mind.

I am chairman of a city council myself, so of course we do not miss so much external advice with the planning monopoly but personally I see, however, that this is of a greater, national importance. Surely this was the way of thinking in Sipoo back then, but now is a different case.

So, the Swedish parliamentary group hopes that a sensible and clever solution will be found and the airport can be saved. - Thank you."

Wallinheimo either does not understand or accept the answer, as he goes on insisting (Strand then repeats his message of greater national importance):

"My recent speech clearly enough did not act as a debate instigator. But as MP Strand, who is currently Vaasa Council Chairman, really sits next to me, if a similar case should occur for example in Vaasa, that Vaasa plans a given area and decides to build residential houses and then there is a citizens' initiative that the area be expropriated by the State, so I would really like to ask, what kind of feelings this would create. So that here we go now contradicting in a certain way just one area in mind and the role of the State questioned quite a bit."

4. No fixed opinion (two MPs)

Eero Heinäluoma and Pia Viitanen (both Social Democrats) clearly leave their position open. Both are mainly interested in whether the State will return its discontinued operations to Malmi if the airport is not destroyed. In his six speeches (record number in this plenary session) Heinäluoma also ends up estimating that sympathetic attitude towards the initiative is really municipal electoral politics (Helsinki mayoral candidate Tuula Haatainen, who has loudly speculated with the same municipal elections theme outside the Plenary Hall, was quiet as a mouse despite her presence).

5. Alternative facts?

Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner begins her speech by briefing decision-making regarding the airport in 2014:

"Madam Speaker! Honourable MPs! The future of Malmi airport has been discussed for a long time. The current situation is arrived at based on previous studies. The Cabinet decided in the fiscal plan for the period 2015 – 2018, in the spring of 2014 that Malmi airport will be taken for residential use and the State functions will be terminated in the area as quickly as possible, at the latest by 2020. In addition, the letter of intent between the State and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area municipalities supporting major infrastructure projects and promoting housing was adopted in the Cabinet in November 2014. The contract stipulates that the State quits its operations at Malmi airport during the year 2016 but no later than by the end of 2020, after which the area will return to the possession of the City of Helsinki. In other words, this Cabinet has not had any significant role in the matter during the current electoral term." [the current Cabinet took over in May 2015]

However, Berner holds back the preceding decision on the implementation of the structural programme as part of the fiscal plan (spending limits) by the Cabinet of Jyrki Katainen on March 25, 2014. It states (p. 8):

"In order to enhance residential construction in the Helsinki region, the State will withdraw from its functions at Helsinki-Malmi airport in such a way that the area can be taken for housing no later than the early 2020’s. This change requires transferring the Border Guard as well as civil aviation to a compensatory airfield. The Border Guard will launch preparations for the acquisition of a base at Helsinki-Vantaa. Finavia Corporation and the Border Guard will agree arrangements in such a way that the move to new premises from Malmi is done cost neutrally. "

Nonetheless, reference to Malmi airport differs from the decision made the previous day in the bulletin released the very next day (ie March 26, 2014), despite the fact that there is a direct link to the original decision:

"Malmi airport will be taken for housing. State functions will be terminated in the area as quickly as possible, by 2020 at the latest."

The Ministry of Finance General Government Fiscal plan for the period 2015-2018 dated April 3, 2014 and cited by Berner, in turn, refers to the Cabinet decision of March 25, 2014 (link to the decision manifests itself in a footnote that appears in the original document on page 13, but not in this blog text):

"The Cabinet has decided to complement its previous decisions further and align the implementation of the programme as part of the fiscal plan."

Furthermore, it is stated on page 22:

"- - - In order to enhance residential construction in the Helsinki region, the State will withdraw from its functions at Helsinki-Malmi airport in such a way that the area can be taken for housing no later than the early 2020’s."

Berner also refers to the letter of intent between the State and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area municipalities to boost large-scale infrastructure projects and the promotion of housing. Both the provisional document and the signed agreement falsely quote the spending limits decision:

"3. Prime Minister Katainen's Cabinet decisions on spending limits March 25, 2014:

"The Government will start to realize the City Rail Loop-line with the associated financial model preparation and negotiate the financial contributions.

Malmi airport will be taken for housing. State functions will be terminated in the area as quickly as possible, by 2020 at the latest.""

Both the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport and Communications officials tell us that the correct version of the decision to quit operations in Malmi would have required a replacement aerodrome also for civil aviation – but as we know this has not come to fruition. In addition Merja Kyllönen, the transport minister up to April 3, 2014, agrees with the officials (p. 1). So, has the decision to cease Malmi aviation activities been made based on alternative facts and who is the provider of these facts?

6. Conclusion

In my view, all those MPs in the preliminary debate who referred to the decisions made in 2014 about closing the airport (Heinäluoma, up to four different speeches, Eestilä, Räsänen and Kymäläinen) as well as Prime  Minister Sipilä are under the impression that the decision was not subject to preconditions. For example, the initiative’s most ardent opponent Räsänen states:

"- - - The fact is that this story begins in 2014, whilst the State made a decision of its own to remove its operations from Malmi airport, and in this context it was agreed with the City of Helsinki that the City of Helsinki then take over this area for residential use, and the City of Helsinki has implemented this in its own planning decisions."

The Chancellor of Justice has already decided on the transfer of Malmi airport functions. His perspective was, on what basis and surveys decisions have been made. However, it left open the question of what are the correct contents of the transfer decision taken at the time. Now, however, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has also agreed with her colleague that the Cabinet can decide just whatever in just whatever way and the legality supervisors are satisfied with it.

Personally, I prefer the preservation of Malmi airport in its current use in any case, and the appropriate means must be found to this end. And I think the Parliament cannot ignore the ambiguity of the decisions – after all they contain a gap large enough for some foul play, even if the law enforcement agencies washed their hands. There should be some sort of order in Government functions, unless we live in a banana republic.

This is an English version of my blog entry in Finnish. It contains more hyperlinks than the Finnish version so that foreign readers might have the chance to get the whole picture.

Regards, Kalevi Kämäräinen 

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