Finland’s parliamentary system features free and fair elections and robust multiparty competition. Corruption is not a significant problem, and freedoms of speech, religion, and association are respected. The judiciary is independent under the constitution and in practice. Women and ethnic minority groups enjoy equal rights, though harassment and hate speech aimed at minority groups does occur.
- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Finnish government declared a state of emergency in March, which was in place for three months. Authorities closed down the capital and restricted movement into and out of the country; no curfew was imposed, and all business remained open. According to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 36,100 people tested positive for COVID-19 and over 500 people died by year’s end.
- In September, the Nordic Resistance Movement, a far-right, neo-Nazi organization, lost their Supreme Court appeal against their 2019 ban. The court issued a cease-and-desist order for the organization and declared the group had abused the rights to free assembly and free expression, with the aim of overturning democracy and limiting human rights.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president, whose role is mainly ceremonial, is directly elected for up to two six-year terms. In 2018, former finance minister and incumbent president Sauli Niinistö, originally of the center-right National Coalition Party (KOK), won a second presidential term with 62.6 percent of the vote, defeating several challengers. The election was considered broadly free and fair.
The prime minister, the head of government, is selected by Finland’s freely elected parliament. Following parliamentary elections in April 2019, Antti Rinne of the Social Democratic Party became prime minister in June. However, he resigned due to criticism within the governing coalition over his handling of a postal workers’ strike in November 2019, and Sanna Marin was chosen by the party to replace him in December 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Representatives in the 200-seat, unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta, are elected to serve four-year terms. In March 2019, the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Sipilä of the Center Party, which had been in power since 2015, resigned after failing to secure parliamentary support for a reform of the health care system, one of its key priorities. The move triggered the elections held in April 2019. After a preliminary needs-assessment mission to Finland before the 2019 parliamentary elections, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed “a high level of confidence in all the aspects of the electoral process” and concluded that it was not necessary to send an election observation mission.
The Social Democratic Party won the largest share of the vote, taking 40 seats. The right-wing Finns Party placed second with 39 seats. The new government formed in June 2019 comprised the Social Democratic Party, the Center Party (31 seats), the Green League (20 seats), the Left Alliance (16 seats), and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland (9 seats). The remainder of seats went to KOK (38), the Christian Democrats (5), the new Movement Now (1), and the Åland Coalition (1).
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Finland’s electoral laws are robust and generally well implemented by the relevant authorities. The OSCE in 2019 found no new electoral problems to address since its previous review.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant constraints on political parties’ ability to organize and operate, and they compete freely in practice.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Finland regularly experiences peaceful transfers of power between rival political parties through elections, with governments typically consisting of multiparty coalitions. The 2019 elections produced the country’s first Social Democratic prime minister since 2003.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from undue interference by forces that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Citizens from the Finnish majority and all ethnic minorities enjoy full political rights. The Åland Islands—an autonomous region located off the southwestern coast whose inhabitants speak Swedish—have their own 30-seat parliament, as well as one seat in the national legislature. The Sámi of northern Finland, an Indigenous people who number about 10,000, have a legislature with limited powers, but they do not have guaranteed representation in the parliament. Members of the Sámi community continue to call for greater inclusion in political decision-making processes.
Women and women’s interests are reasonably well represented in politics, as are LGBT+ people and their respective interests. Prime Minister Marin is the third woman to serve as Finland’s head of government. Her installation also marked the first time that all parties in a Finnish governing coalition were headed by women.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Finland’s freely elected government and lawmakers are generally able to develop and implement policy without undue interference from unelected entities.
In March 2020, the government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government attempted to introduce the Infectious Diseases Act, which would give them more powers than the current Emergency Powers Act, enabling them, for example, to order the closure of gyms and group exercise facilities. Concerns over restrictions of economic freedom brought the bill to a stall, and it had not been approved by Parliament by year’s end.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
Corruption is not a significant problem in Finland and is generally punished under relevant laws when discovered. However, in 2018 the Council of Europe’s anticorruption body urged Finland to bolster corruption prevention and detection policies within government and law enforcement agencies, including by increasing whistleblower protections. It further warned of possible conflicts of interest between the public and private sectors in the Sipilä government’s planned health care and social service reforms.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
Laws permitting access to public information are generally well enforced, though there are some limits on the disclosure of information related to national security, foreign affairs, trade secrets, and criminal investigations. All citizens, including government officials, are required by law to make public asset declarations, though there are no penalties for noncompliance. While companies perceive corruption risks and favoritism within public procurement as low, informal networks and personal associations, notably at the local level, are still believed to hold influence over procurement decisions.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of expression is protected by Article 12 of the constitution and the 2003 Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in Mass Media. Media outlets in Finland are typically independent and free from political pressure or censorship, and the media environment is strong.
However, journalists sometimes face harassment for their work, notably those who cover topics related to immigrants and immigration. Journalists also face the risk of defamation charges. In April 2019, investigative reporter Johanna Vehkoo was convicted of defaming a far-right politician and ordered to pay more than $7,000 in fines and compensation.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution and generally respected in practice. However, far-right hate speech and incidents of vandalism directed at the Jewish and Muslim communities are ongoing concerns.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are few impediments to personal expression, and the authorities are not known to engage in improper surveillance of personal communications. However, in March 2019 the parliament gave final approval to two bills that strengthen the authority of the intelligence service and defense forces to access private communications involving national security threats. Work on the measures had begun after what was considered the country’s first-ever terrorist attack in 2017.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is protected by law and upheld in practice. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government restricted public events—including protests—to no more than 50 people in March 2020. This restriction was removed in October.
In October 2020, police used pepper spray against protesters obstructing traffic, who were associated with the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion and calling on the government to take more significant measures to combat the climate crisis. In December, the National Police Board and the prosecutor general opened an inquiry into accusations of assault levied against the police for their actions.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations operate without restriction.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, though public-sector workers who provide services deemed essential may not strike. Approximately 70 percent of workers belong to trade unions, which actively advocate for members’ interests.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts operate without political interference in practice.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Due process is generally respected in Finland. Authorities largely uphold safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the conditions for fair trials.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
There are few significant threats to physical security, and violent crime is uncommon, although it has increased in recent years.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution guarantees the Sámi people cultural autonomy and the right to pursue their culturally significant livelihoods, which include fishing and reindeer herding. However, representatives of the community have said that they cannot fully exercise their rights in practice and face restrictions on land use. While Roma comprise a very small percentage of Finland’s population, they are significantly disadvantaged and marginalized.
Women enjoy equal legal rights. Despite an equal pay law, women earn only about 83 percent as much as men on average. In February 2020, the government initiated a new policy that grants new parents seven months of parental leave, regardless of gender.
A June 2019 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted an increase in racist and intolerant hate speech in Finland, especially toward Muslims and refugees. Hate speech on the internet was also a concern, with targets including immigrants, people of African descent, LGBT+ people, the Jewish community, and Roma. A 2020 report by Finland’s Non-Discrimination Ombudsman further highlighted racism against people of African descent. The report noted that 20 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced ethnic profiling by police or security guards, 70 percent said they had experienced discrimination in education, and 60 percent said they had not been treated equally when applying for jobs. Further, 60 percent said they had not filed any official complaints on discriminatory behavior.
The Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi organization that the National Police Board has called “violent and openly racist,” was banned in March 2019. In September 2020, Finland’s Supreme Court denied their appeal and issued a cease-and-desist order against them. NRM had appealed the ban on the basis of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the organization’s activities constituted abuse of those same freedoms. This is the first time an organization has been given a cease-and-desist order in Finland since the 1970s.
In 2016, the Finnish government amended its asylum law to limit the aid available to asylum seekers. The amendments prompted concern from the UN refugee agency, which suggested that authorities had abandoned good practices and sought to align their policies with the minimum required by international treaties governing the treatment of refugees.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals in Finland are free to travel abroad and domestically. The country has one of the most expansive “freedom to roam” policies in the world, allowing people to use any public or private land for recreational purposes so long as the privacy of a private residence is not violated, and no environmental damage is incurred. There are no undue restrictions on people’s ability to change their place of residence, education, or employment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Finland ensured that citizens had the right to return to Finland and all persons had the right to leave the country. Restrictions on entry into the country for noncitizens were implemented temporarily. In November 2020, new rules required passengers entering Finland to have a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test taken less than 72 hours before arrival.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Intellectual and physical property rights are upheld. There are no major obstacles to establishing a business, and the country boasts a well-regulated, transparent, and open economy.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
People’s choices on personal status matters are for the most part unrestricted. Same-sex marriage has been allowed since 2017. However, legislation requires that transgender people be sterilized and have a mental health diagnosis in order to obtain legal recognition of their gender. In 2017, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) called for Finland to eliminate these impediments to legal gender recognition. The ECRI echoed this call in 2019. The UNHRC has also recommended that Finland amend its criminal code to no longer define rape according to the degree of violence used by the perpetrator. The new coalition government in 2019 placed this matter on its agenda, and in July 2020 the Ministry of Justice issued a recommendation to include consent in the definition of rape. The proposal is unlikely to go to Parliament for consideration until spring 2021. Domestic violence is an ongoing concern.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
The authorities generally uphold protections against exploitative working conditions. Asylum seekers and migrants are most vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. According to the US State Department, the government actively prosecutes trafficking offenses, and survivors have access to protection and assistance, though alleged perpetrators often receive lighter charges and penalties due to lack of specialized training for investigators.
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