Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The year 2013 saw no notably dramatic political developments in Finland. An employer-union agreement on wages was reached in 2013 that affected almost all Finnish workers, and the left-leaning parties in the government coalition suffered from defending unpopular austerity measures and not supporting the trade unions. The controversial right-wing, euro-skeptic opposition party The Finns Party (formerly “The True Finns Party”) consolidated their political gains in 2013, including with a high-profile but unsuccessful vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen over his role in commissioning a €700,000 ($955,000) report without a competitive bidding process. True Finns remained the third most popular party according to opinion polls at the end of the year, having risen to second place for some of the year.
The debate—both public and within the government—about the European Union’s economic bailouts for heavily indebted eurozone members continued in 2013. The solvent Finns, seeing themselves as fiscally prudent, expressed frustration at sending funds to southern European countries perceived as less financially responsible. Finland is the only country in the EU that has reserved the right to put any bailout to a parliamentary vote. A bill approving the Spanish bailout package passed Parliament in July 2012, with a comfortable majority and was widely considered a confidence vote on Katainen’s government. The government survived a confidence vote raised by the Finn’s Party brought on by the Cyprus bailout package, although less comfortably.
Political Rights: 40 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
The president, whose role is mainly ceremonial, is directly elected for a six-year term. The president appoints the prime minister and deputy prime minister from the majority party or coalition after elections; the selection must be approved by Parliament. Representatives in the 200-seat unicameral Parliament, or Eduskunta, are elected to four-year terms. Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995 and is the only Nordic country to have adopted the euro as its currency.
The so-called rainbow coalition currently in government is led by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen of the moderate conservative National Coalition Party (KOK); the coalition comprises the KOK, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Left Alliance, the Green League, the Swedish People’s Party, and the Christian Democrats. Pro-EU and pro-euro former finance minister Sauli Niinistö of the KOK handily won the presidency in February 2012, defeating the Green League candidate, Pekka Haavisto, with 63 percent to 37 percent of the vote. Elections are considered free and fair.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16
Finland boasts a robustly free political environment with a strong opposition free to organize on every political level. The Åland Islands—an autonomous region located off the southwestern coast whose inhabitants speak Swedish—have their own 30-seat Parliament, as well as a seat in the national legislature. The indigenous Sami of northern Finland also have their own legislature, but are not represented in the Eduskunta.
C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12
Corruption is not a significant problem in Finland, which was ranked 3 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, the Chancellor of Justice in September 2013 found that there had been a lack of transparency and good governance practices in the government’s commissioning of a report, without launching a competitive bidding process, for which it paid €700,000 ($955,000). A parliamentary inquiry into the issue in June had absolved Katainen of any legal wrongdoing. A court in April 2012 had found Parliament member and former foreign minister Ikka Kanerva guilty of accepting bribes and neglecting his official duties as chairman of the Regional Council of Southwest Finland’s managing board, and handed down a 15-month suspended jail sentence. Three codefendants received harsher sentences. A 2010 law requires candidates and parties to report campaign donations of more than €800 ($1,030) in local elections or €1,500 ($1,930) in parliamentary elections.
Civil Liberties: 60 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16
Finnish law provides for freedom of speech, which is respected in practice. Finland has a large variety of newspapers and magazines and protects the right to reply to public criticism. Newspapers are privately owned but publicly subsidized, although at a lower level than in neighboring Scandinavian countries. Many are controlled by or support a particular political party. In 2012 and 2013, a new value added tax on subscriptions to newspapers and magazines contributed to financial difficulties for this sector. In March 2010, the Finnish police launched an internet tip-off system in an effort to simplify the process of reporting threats of violence and racist slander.
Finns enjoy freedom of religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church are both state churches and receive public money from the income taxes of members; citizens may exempt themselves from contributing to those funds, but must renounce their membership. Religious communities other than the state churches may also receive state funds. Religious education is part of the curriculum in all secondary public schools, but students may opt out in favor of more general instruction in ethics. Academic freedom is respected.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12
Freedoms of association and assembly are upheld in law and in practice. 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. In October 2013, a 2-year deal covering 93 percent of all Finnish workers was finalized between the three biggest Trade Union Confederations, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Mangerial Staff (AKAVA), the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK), and the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), providing very minor wage increases. Exempt from the agreement by choice are Finnair and the cabin crew union SLSY, which were intermittently continuing their own negotiations and on strike at year’s end.
F. Rule of Law: 16 / 16
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The president appoints Supreme Court judges, who in turn appoint lower-court judges. Finland has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights for slow trial procedures. The Ministry of the Interior controls police and Frontier Guard forces. Ethnic minorities and asylum seekers report occasional police discrimination. The criminal code covers ethnic agitation and penalizes anyone who threatens a racial, national, ethnic, or religious group. In October 2013, retail magnate Juha Kärkkäinen was sentenced to 90 income-based day fines for anti-Semitic writings that appeared in his free newspaper Magneetti Media. A 2012 ruling by the country’s Supreme Administrative Court led to a new interpretation of Finland’s immigration law that might allow several hundred rejected asylum seekers to stay in Finland and receive residency permits if their home countries refuse to receive forcible deportations. A little over half of all the asylum applications ruled on in 2013 were rejected.
Immigration issues remained divisive in 2013, in part fueled by the rapid political ascent of the True Finns starting in 2011. The political identity of the True Finns on the subject of immigration remains a controversial subject, both within and outside the party. While leader Timo Soini has sought to maintain a more moderate stance on immigration, several high-profile party members who serve in Parliament also belong to the nationalist group Suomen Sisu. True Finns MP Olli Immonen became the group’s chair in March 2013. This faction has expressed fierce disagreement with the party leadership on the immigration issue. Controversial MP James Hirvisaari was expelled from the True Finns in October 2013 for posting pictures online of a friend performing a Nazi salute in Parliament; his expulsion was interpreted by some as an effort to shift the party’s image towards the political mainstream.
However, the True Finns’ main political emphasis in 2012 and 2013 was on opposition to EU bailouts rather than immigration.
The constitution guarantees the Sami people cultural autonomy and the right to pursue their traditional livelihoods, which include fishing and reindeer herding. Their language and culture are also protected through public financial support. However, representatives of the community have complained that they cannot exercise their rights in practice and that they do not have the right to self-determination with respect to land use. While Roma also make up a very small percentage of the population, they are more significantly disadvantaged and marginalized.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 16 / 16
Property rights, intellectual as well as physical, are upheld in Finland. Finland has one of the most expansive legal definitions of “Freedom to Roam” in the world. Provided the privacy of a private residence is not violated and no environmental damage is incurred, anybody is free to use any land, public and private, for outdoor recreation purposes, without having to seek permission beforehand. There are no major obstacles to establish business, which boasts a well-regulated, transparent and open economy.
Women enjoy equal rights in Finland. Women hold approximately 43 percent of the seats in Parliament, and 9 of 19 cabinet ministers are women. Despite a law stipulating equal pay for equal work, women earn only about 85 percent as much as men with the same qualifications. Domestic violence is an ongoing concern. Legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Finland was voted down in a parliamentary committee in February 2013. A citizens’ initiative was then drafted and signed by over 167,000 Finns, leading to the presentation of a same-sex marriage bill to Parliament in December. An amendment to the constitution in 2012 allowed for citizens’ initiatives, which required Parliament to consider petitions that attracted more than 50,000 signatures. Finland is the only Nordic country not to have legalized same-sex marriage. Finland remains a destination and a transit country for trafficked men, women, and children. Amendments to the Alien Act in 2006 allow trafficked victims to stay in the country and qualify for employment rights.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year