Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

Finnish PM faces backlash over Russia nuclear plant

  • Stubb: joked his MPs will face travel restrictions if the Greens go (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Finland’s new PM, Alexander Stubb, is facing a coalition split over plans for Russian firm Rosatom to build a nuclear reactor.

A contact in the Green League, a junior coalition party, on Thursday (18 September) confirmed to EUobserver that it will quit if Stubb’s cabinet approves the project at a meeting later the same day.

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“We joined the coalition on the understanding that there would be no new nuclear plants built during the current, four-year term. So we would see this as a broken promise,” the contact said.

The league’s head, environment minister Ville Niinisto, made his threat public on Monday when Stubb’s economy ministry said the project should go ahead.

If the Greens abandon him, it would leave Stubb with just a 101-strong majority in the 200-seat parliament.

It is also likely to trigger a vote of confidence and, if Stubb loses, snap elections ahead of a scheduled vote in April.

Stubb has joked that if the Greens quit, he will be forced to make sure all his remaining MPs turn up to vote whenever parliament meets. “Let’s put it this way - the rules on traveling will be tighter,” he said.

But joking aside, the political harm could spread: Three ministers from his centre-left SPD coalition partners, including foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, have also said they are against the Rosatom plant.

Meanwhile, the reactor might not be built anyway due to investor fears over the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Rosatom currently holds 34 percent of the €4 billion-plus “Fennovoima” project, while a consortium of Finnish businesses, called Voimaosakeyhtio, owns the rest.

The plant must be at least 60 percent Finnish-owned. But Voimaosakeyhtio only has 54 percent worth of capital signed up, with the other 12 percent unassigned.

Stubb has emerged as a leading critic of EU economic sanctions on Russia.

The last round of restrictions, which entered into life on 8 September, included a carve-out on sales of dual-use goods and related services for civilian nuclear projects.

But Finnish media have spooked potential Voimaosakeyhtio investors by lambasting Stubb's position.

The Ilta-Sanomat tabloid on Wednesday published an interview with Andrei Illarionov, a former aide of Russian leader Vladimir Putin who now works for the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington.

Illarionov called Stubb “weak” on Russia and on recent Russian violations of Finnish airspace.

He also compared a meeting in August between Finnish president Sauli Niinisto and Putin to a notorious meeting between British PM Neville Chamberlain and Hitler on the eve of World War II.

“This [Niinisto meeting] was certainly interpreted and seen within the Kremlin as a clear sign that Finland has a different approach than other Western countries”, Illarionov said.

Finland most vulnerable to Russian gas cut-off

Finland would experience gas shortages if Russia cuts off exports for one month, while other EU countries would last between three to nine months without Russian gas, according to a German study.

Russia threatens EU states with gas cut-offs

Russian energy minister Novak has warned that EU states which re-export gas to Ukraine will face cut-offs, with Hungary already stopping its reverse flow.

EU lets UK subsidise nuclear power plant

EU officials have said the UK can use state money to help build a nuclear power plant, despite objections from Austria and Green politicians.

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