Freedom in the World
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In March 2004, former prime minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki, who had resigned amid political scandal just two months after Finland's March 2003 general elections, was acquitted of charges of inciting or assisting in the breach of official secrets. Her successor, Matti Vahhanen, ruled out the possibility of a referendum of the proposed European Union (EU) constitution in August, as the treaty is uncontroversial in Finland.
Finland was ruled by Sweden until the early eighteenth century and then became a Grand Duchy of Russia until its independence in 1917. The country is traditionally neutral, but its army has enjoyed broad popular support ever since it fended off a Russian invasion during World War II. Finland joined the EU in 1995 after its friendship treaty with the Soviet Union became void. It has been an enthusiastic member state and is the only Nordic country to have adopted the euro.
In the 2000 presidential election, Tarja Halonen of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was chosen as the country's first woman president. She defeated four other female candidates - from a total field of seven - from across the political spectrum to serve a six-year term.
The Center Party came to power after winning 55 seats in the parliamentary elections held on March 16, 2003. The second-largest party, the SDP, had led the ruling coalition since 1995. It remains part of the new ruling coalition, which also includes the Center Party and the Swedish People's Party (representing the Swedish-language minority). Jaatteenmaki replaced the SDP's Paavo Lipponen as prime minister, becoming the first woman to hold the post. However, just two months after she was chosen, Jaatteenmaki stepped down when it was alleged that she had leaked information from classified foreign policy documents and then lied about having done so. Jaatteenmaki had used evidence from the documents, which included details of Lipponen's confidential discussions with U.S. president George W. Bush, in her public attacks against Lipponen's pro-U.S. stance on the war in Iraq. After Jaatteenmaki's resignation just two months after the election, Vanhanen, of the Center Party, succeeded her.
A Helinski court unanimously acquitted Jaatteenmaki of breaching official secrets in March 2004. However, Martti Manninen, a presidential aide who had given her the documents, was found guilty of violating the Official Secrets Act and fined 3,600 euros. Jaatteenmaki subsequently drew the most votes in the Finnish elections for the European Parliament.
Finland emerged as a leader of the smaller states within the EU during the 2003 drafting of the EU constitution. Unlike in other EU member states, the proposed constitution is uncontroversial in Finland, and Prime Minister Vanhanen ruled out a possible referendum on the treaty in August 2004. Finns continued to debate abandoning their traditional neutrality and seeking membership in NATO, an issue of particular relevance given the recent inclusions of the Baltic States in the alliance.
Finnish citizens vote in European Parliament elections. In the June 13 poll, 41.1 percent of voters turned out, and the conservative National Coalition Party led all parties by garnering 23.7 percent of the vote (4 seats). The Center Party won 23.3 percent (4 seats); the Social Democratic Party, 21.3 percent (3 seats); the Green League, 10.4 percent (1 seat); the Left Wing Alliance, 9.1 percent (1 seat); and the Swedish People's Party, 5.7 percent (1 seat).
Because of its combination of traditional and modern industries, the World Economic Forum ranked Finland the most competitive economy in the world in 2004. In addition to timber and metals industries, the country has a strong telecommunications sector, and the Finnish firm Nokia is the top mobile-phone maker worldwide. Still, unemployment is above the average for the EU.
Citizens of Finland can change their government democratically. The prime minister in Finland has primary responsibility for running the government. Representatives in the 200-seat unicameral parliament, called the Eduskunta, are elected to four-year terms. The Aland Islands - an autonomous region that is located off the southwestern coast of Finland and whose inhabitants speak Swedish - have their own 29-seat parliament and have one seat in the national legislature. The indigenous Saami of northern Finland also have their own parliament.
Finland has been rated the least-corrupt country in the world in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index since 2000. However, in September, the chief of the country's Security Police, Seppo Nevala, was suspended from office amid allegations of illegal procurement of telecommunications log data. Later that month, Finland sent a team of specialists to Costa Rica to investigate an embezzlement scandal involving the sale of medical equipment from Instrumentarium, a Finnish company, to the Costa Rican health authorities. The allegedly corrupt deal was financed by a $32 million loan from the Finnish bank Sampo, a loan guaranteed and subsidized by the Finnish government.
Finland has a large variety of newspapers and magazines. Newspapers are published privately owned but publicly subsidized, and many are controlled by or support a particular political party. Finnish law gives every citizen the right to publish and guarantees the right of reply. In February, the Eduskunta substantially liberalized a controversial media law that placed burdensome restrictions on Internet publishers and service providers. As a result, Internet traffic logging is no longer required, and online discussion groups are beyond the scope of the law. However, web publications must name a responsible editor-in-chief and archive published materials for at least twenty-one days.
Finns enjoy freedom of religion. Both the predominant Lutheran Church and the smaller Orthodox Church are financed through a special tax, from which citizens may exempt themselves. Other religious groups are eligible for tax relief if they register and are recognized by the government. Religious education is part of the curriculum in all public schools, but students may opt out of these classes in favor of more general education in religion and philosophy. The government respects academic freedom.
Freedom of association and assembly is respected in law and in practice. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. More than 70 percent of workers belong to a trade union.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which consists 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. The Ministry of Interior controls police and Frontier Guard forces. While ethnic minorities and asylum seekers report occasional police discrimination, there were no reports of human rights abuses, according to the U.S. State Department.
The rights of ethnic and religious minorities are protected in Finland. Since 1991, the indigenous Saami, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, have been heard in the Eduskunta on relevant matters. The constitution guarantees the Saami cultural autonomy and the right to their traditional means of livelihood, which include fishing and reindeer herding. Their language and culture are also protected through financial support. However, representatives of the community have complained that they cannot exercise these rights in practice and that they do not have the right to self-determination in land use.
While Roma (Gypsies) also make up a very small percentage of the population, they are more widely disadvantaged and marginalized. According to the U.S. State Department, a recent academic study found that nearly one-third of surveyed immigrants (primarily Arabs, Kosovar Albanians, Somalis, Vietnamese, Russians, Estonians, and Ingrians) reported experiencing racism in the previous 12 months. The Ministry of Justice has engaged in an action plan for combating racism.
The government, under pressure from international human rights bodies, has commissioned a prominent historian to advise whether a study reevaluating Finnish collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II is warranted.
Women enjoy a high degree of equality with men. In 1906, Finland became the first country in Europe to grant women the vote and the first in the world to allow women to become electoral candidates. In the current parliament, 38 percent of the delegates and 8 of 18 government ministers are women. Tarja Halonen was the first woman to be elected president in Finland. However, women continue to make 10 percent less than men of the same age, education, and profession, and they are generally employed in lower-paid occupations.
Trafficking in women and girls for prostitution is a problem in Finland, and the government has taken significant steps to address it. In September, a conference on human trafficking, held in Helsinki and sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on member countries to do more to stop the smuggling and exploitation of people. Finland is both a destination and a transit country for trafficked people.