Finland’s government is facing a no confidence vote in parliament this afternoon, as five opposition parties unite around the subject of railway reform and proposed privatization measures for the railway monopoly VR.
At present, the government lead by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party can command 106 out of 200 votes in parliament, with partners the National Coalition Party and Blue Groups.
This will be the first confidence vote since the Finns Party split up over the summer, with 19 MPs joining the new Blue Group in government, and 16 MPs staying with the Finns Party – a move that weakened the government’s parliamentary majority.
The vote comes after a heated debate in parliament on Tuesday about government plans to completely overhaul Finland’s railway system.
Communications Minister Anne Berner (Centre) was forced to defend opening up rail traffic to competition.
Berner said the move could – among other things – making prices more competitive between train companies on the same route, which may prompt more people to use the train as a way of getting around the country.
The government’s goal is to open up the railway industry to competition from the beginning of the 2020s in the southern part of the country, spreading to the whole of Finland by 2026.
Five opposition parties got together to force a debate on the topic, and while several don’t outright disagree with the idea of more competition or wholesale reform for Finnish railways, they object to the way in which the government wants to implement the changes.
The proposals see VR cut up into three new companies, dealing with track maintenance, train fleet / rolling stock and real estate.
As the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats argue that opening passenger traffic up to competition makes the system more inefficient in terms of using personnel and equipment.
“As a result, expenses increase, ticket prices rise and supply decreases. Traffic stops first in sparsely populated areas of northern and eastern Finland” says MP Harry Wallin (SDP) who used to work as a train driver.
The Swedish Peoples’ Party emphasized the importance of network capacity in any reforms.
“A prerequisite for a competitive tendering of rail services to be successful, is that it makes substantial investments in the network track capacity” says MP Mats Nylund (SFP).