Freedom in the World
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Finland adopted the euro and raised the minimum age for engaging in armed conflict. The Green Party withdrew from the governing coalition. Finland came under pressure to accept more asylum seekers and refugees, and Finns continued to debate the merits of joining NATO during the year.
Finnish independence followed eight centuries of foreign domination, first by Sweden (until 1809) and subsequently as a Grand Duchy within the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire. Amendments to Finland's 1919 constitution came into force in 2000. The amendments diminish the president's power and increase the parliament's, giving the latter greater sway over calling elections and the appointing of national representatives to international gatherings, including EU meetings.
In January 2002, Finland adopted the euro as the national currency, the only Nordic EU member to do so.
The Green Party and its solitary minister, Satu Hassi, withdrew from the coalition government that has dominated politics since 1999, in response to parliament's vote on May 24 to approve the construction of a fifth nuclear reactor. Nevertheless, the surviving coalition members--the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the National Coalition Party, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People's Party--led by the prime minister, Paavo Lipponen of the SDP, looked set to govern until the scheduled general election in March 2003.
In August, Finland deported 88 asylum-seeking Roma; they are now banned from entering Schengen Treaty countries (which consists of all EU member states, except Ireland and the UK, plus Iceland and Norway) and may have their passports confiscated for three years. The goal of the treaty is to eliminate border checks between member states and build a common area of security and justice. Finland had already rejected all 525 asylum requests filed by Roma since the start of 2002; nearly 300 were repatriated before the August expulsion.
Finland accepts fewer asylum seekers than its Nordic neighbors and has come under pressure to increase its intake. In 2001, there were 1,651 people applying for political asylum in Finland, of whom only 37 percent were accepted. Finland also took in 739 refugees through the resettlement program of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Over the same period, Sweden received 23,515 asylum applications (55 percent were accepted) and resettled 1,279 refugees. Denmark received 8,385 asylum applications (53 percent were accepted) and resettled 2,020 refugees. Norway received 14,782 asylum applications in 2001 (40 percent were accepted) and resettled 1,480 refugees.
Finland's support of the European security and defence policy and the U.S. fight against terrorism since September 11, 2001, suggests that Finland is no longer a neutral country in the traditional, isolationist sense. Moreover, the government is increasingly positive about NATO membership, but popular opposition remains strong. Finland is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
Finns can change their government by democratic means. Finland has a 200-seat unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta; representatives are elected to 4-year terms. The president is elected for six-year terms. The Aland Islands, populated mainly by Swedes, have their own provincial parliament; the local Liberal Party won the October 1999 elections. The result was a blow to earlier demands for greater autonomous powers in Aland, as the Liberals do not share either the Conservative Party or the Center Party belief that the current system is inadequate.
Finland has a large variety of newspapers and magazines and has one of the highest rates of Internet users per capita in the world. Newspapers are privately owned, some by political parties or their affiliates; many others are controlled by or support a particular party. A law grants every citizen the right to publish.
The rights of ethnic and religious minorities are protected. The Saamis (Lapps), who make up less than one percent of the population, are guaranteed cultural autonomy by the constitution. Since 1973, the Saami have elected, every four years, representatives to the 20-strong Saami parliament. Since 1991, the Saami have been heard in the Finnish parliament on matters concerning them--the only indigenous people with this right in Finland. Saamis no longer have exclusive right to their traditional livelihoods but may use their own language with authorities.
Both Finnish and Swedish are official languages of the country. Finland has the lowest percentage of foreigners, at 1.8 percent of the total population, of any EU country. Nevertheless, concern has arisen about the increasing number of racist and xenophobic incidents. To facilitate foreigners' absorption, the government revised Finland's Aliens Law and adopted a new law promoting immigrants' integration into Finnish society, both effective from May 1999. Reforms in 2000 allowed for more rapid processing of asylum claims filed by refugees from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria. Most asylum seekers come from Russia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Turkey.
Finns enjoy freedom of religion, and both the predominant Lutheran Church and the smaller Russian Orthodox Church are financed through a special tax from which citizens may exempt themselves. The president appoints the archbishop and the bishops of the Lutheran Church.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court, the supreme administrative court, and the lower courts. The president appoints Supreme Court judges, who in turn appoint the lower court judges.
Finland was rated the "least corrupt country" by Transparency International in 2002.
As of April, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict raised the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities and for compulsory government recruitment to 18.
Finnish workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, and most belong to trade unions. The 1.1 million-member Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which is linked to the SDP, dominates the labor movement.
Gender-based equality is guaranteed by law. In 1906, Finland became the first European country to give women full political entitlement, including the right to vote and hold office. Women hold an exceptionally high proportion of parliamentary seats. In February 2000, in the second direct popular vote for president, Finns elected for the first time a woman president, Tarja Halonen, a left-leaning member of the SDP. Women earn about 83 percent of what men earn in the public sector and about 85 percent of what men earn in the private sector, according to Eurostat.