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Tunnel vision: Peter Vesterbacka and his €15bn plan for Northern Europe

Tunnel vision: Peter Vesterbacka and his €15bn plan for Northern Europe

First, Peter Vesterbacka (of Angry Birds fame) announced he would build the world’s longest tunnel under the Gulf of Finland. Next came the news of a high-speed arctic railway between Finland and Norway. And now he and partner Kustaa Valtonen will be bringing all their energy and big thinking to Poland’s first fully-independent Belt & Road conference looking at the initiative from a CEE business-centric perspective in Warsaw.
It was over dinner with friends when Peter Vesterbacka decided to build a 103-km undersea railway tunnel between Finland and Estonia. It wasn’t a new idea – in fact, it had been floated back in 1871. It had become a favourite topic among Finnish and Estonian colleagues. No matter the gathering, the conversation tended to end up at the one juncture: how to bridge the gap between the two tight-knit nations?

But at this particular gala dinner in Tallinn, Vesterbacka had heard enough. “And then I thought … OK, I will finally build it. Let’s walk the walk,” Vesterbacka recounted to BuzzFeed News. He stood up and made a B-line for a table seated with dignitaries, including Marina Kaljurand, Estonia’s foreign minister at the time.

“We just decided to build a tunnel,” he declared without any way of introduction. Who? What? Where? The minister, who had only just made Vesterbacka’s acquaintance, was naturally lost for words but intrigued enough to hear his plan.

That was May 2016 and the FinEst Bay Area company was founded shortly after. Three years, one PwC feasibility report and a collection of environmental impact studies later, the company has landed €15bn in financing after signing a memorandum of understanding with China’s Touchstone Capital Partners.

All of a sudden, that crazy dinner-table idea doesn’t look so crazy anymore. The odds have just shortened that the company might begin construction in Q4 2019 or Q1 2020 as per its stated timeline. But there are still a few bridges to cross until then.