Helsinki has never before had a municipal referendum
The municipal initiative for a consultative referendum on the continued aviation use of Helsinki-Malmi Airport, initiated in December 2018, gained on Tuesday 5 November a sufficient number of supporters to be taken to the City Council. The initiative has received by far the largest support of all Finnish municipal initiatives, with over 22.300 citizens of Helsinki having signed it. Collecting signatures continues to ensure the adequacy of their number and because of the ambiguous stand of the City Council.
The initiative itself does not take a stand in one direction or another, but proposes a vote on the will of Helsinkians on whether or not to continue the aviation use of Malmi Airport – yes or no. This question has never been directly asked of Helsinki residents.
The continuation of aviation operations at Malmi Airport is supported by, among others. the numerous natural and cultural heritage values that have emerged and seem to be maintained through the aviation use of the site. The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation supports the cause, as a lot of new information about insect and animal populations of the airfield has come to light in recent years through research. Heritage Finland has highlighted the importance of the airport’s cultural values on international scale, and it has been selected as one of Europe’s most endangered cultural heritage sites. In addition, urban feasibility studies commissioned by the city have found that the area’s residential construction on the planned scale is not economically viable.
The biggest municipal initiatives in Finland concern Malmi Airport
The referendum initiative was launched in December 2018 by former High Mayor Raimo Ilaskivi, Lex Malmi initiator Kim Korkkula and Timo Hyvönen, chairman of the Friends of Malmi Airport Association. Previously, at the national level, the biggest submitted municipal initiative was adressed to Helsinki City Council in 2016, proposing to keep Malmi Airport in aviation use (13.197 votes). This initiative was rejected by the Council.
Direct democracy is on the rise
The significance of municipal initiatives has been widely highlighted. The municipal initiative is specifically mentioned, among others, in the political agenda of the Green Alliance. The municipal referendum initiative has also met with criticism.
“We have received feedback, even at ministerial level, that such a project calls into question the decisions made by the council. This is where the roots of democracy lie – whether the position of the council or the citizens is more significant”, says one of the initiators, Mr. Timo Hyvönen.
A popular movement has risen to gather support
“Volunteer signature collectors have taken to the streets spontaneously and collected 13.000 names. According to them, the initiative has almost without exception been positively received, and has been supported by Helsinkians of both opinions. A big thank you to the collectors is in order!” says Hyvönen.
High Mayor Ilaskivi calls for careful deliberation
Raimo Ilaskivi calls for a careful assessment.
“In its statements, the administration repeatedly refers to numerous previous decisions, agreements and plans. Contracts are made by people and can also be changed by people.”
Ilaskivi urges the State and Helsinki to discuss the matter:
“I would urge the State – and provincial MPs in particular – to look further ahead with the theme ‘think‘. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport has been expanded, its international importance is growing at an enormous pace, and its capacity is rapidly filling up. An alternative for lighter domestic traffic but also for international business aircraft should be found, preferably as close to the city as possible. Malmi is very suitable to serve as such a secondary airfield when equipped with modern instrument approach. The dialogue between the State and Helsinki must be opened immediately.”
Ilaskivi also recalls the open letter sent recently by Councilmembers to Mayor Jan Vapaavuori, requesting the extension of aviation use by at least two years.
Lex Malmi initiator Kim Korkkula reminds the State about its responsibility
Kim Korkkula, the initiator of the Lex Malmi Citizens law initiative, recalls the related statement made by Parliament: “The Parliament requires the Government to take steps to secure substitutive airport facilities so that the aviation operations of Malmi Airport can continue with good accessibility and within reasonable distance.”
“The Committee on Transport and Communications has made a motion to keep the statement in effect. No substitutive solutions have been proposed, so because of the statement and even a possible new processing of the law initiative there is an immediate need to agree on the future of the airport’s operations. This must be done by the City of Helsinki and the State of Finland”, says Korkkula.
The process will continue at an appropriate time
Next, the initiative goes to Helsinki City Council, which decides whether or not to hold the referendum called for by Helsinkians. The decision is significant for Finland’s direct municipal democracy and the principle of municipal initiatives.
The initiators intend to find out whether the current Council will allow a referendum or whether it will be brought to the next Council. The municipal elections are due in spring 2021.
Status of the ongoing municipal initiative (in Finnish): https://www.kuntalaisaloite.fi/en/aloite/6466
Ongoing Malmi Citizens’ Initiative (in Finnish): https://www.kansalaisaloite.fi/fi/aloite/490