Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
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.
Key Developments in 2017:
- An assailant killed two women and injured eight other people in a knife attack in Turku, which was considered the country’s first-ever terrorist attack. Security measures increased in response to the events.
- Finland’s coalition government reconstituted after the controversial, anti-immigration Finns Party split into two separate parties. The split was precipitated by the Finns’ election of a hardline right-wing party leader. His faction was left out of the new government.
- Same-sex marriage became legal in March.
- In May, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) called on Finland to repeal laws requiring that transgender people undergo sterilization in order to change their legal gender.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The president, whose role is mainly ceremonial, is directly elected for up to two six-year terms. Former finance minister Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party (KOK) handily won the presidency in 2012 elections considered broadly free and fair. The prime minister is head of government, and is selected by Finland’s freely elected parliament.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
Representatives in the 200-seat, unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta, are elected to four-year terms. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) deployed a preliminary elections assessment mission ahead of the 2015 parliamentary polls; its findings cited “a high level of confidence in all the aspects of the electoral process” and the OSCE consequently declined to monitor the polls. The Center Party (KESK) took the greatest number of seats, with 49, and formed a government with the KOK and the Finns Party; KESK leader Juha Sipilä became prime minister.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
The OSCE, ahead of the 2015 polls, expressed concern about limits on election-related appeals processes, and the timely adjudication of such complaints. However, Finland’s electoral laws are robust and generally well implemented by the relevant authorities.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
Political parties are generally free to organize and operate, and rise and fall freely according to popular support and political developments. In June 2017, the anti-immigration Finns Party split into two separate parties following the controversial election of a hardline right-wing party leader. The former party leader and all of the Finns’ government ministers formed a new party called New Alternative. The Finns Party was subsequently ejected from the government, after KESK and KOK formed a coalition with the New Alternative; together they hold 106 out of 200 seats.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Finland boasts a robust multiparty system with strong opposition parties.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by actors that are not democratically accountable.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
Citizens from minority ethnic groups 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 indigenous Sami of northern Finland have a legislature with limited powers, but they do not have guaranteed representation in the parliament. Women and women’s interests are reasonably well-represented in politics, as are LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender) people and their specific interests.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
Finland’s freely elected government representatives are able to effectively develop and implement policy.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Corruption is not a significant problem in Finland, and is generally punished under relevant laws when discovered.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
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, and criminal investigations. All citizens including government officials are required by law to make public asset declarations, though there are no penalties for noncompliance.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 60 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
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. Decreasing advertising spending continues to pose a challenge for the media sector, especially for print publications.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution and generally respected in practice. However, Jewish communities in Finland have reported a rise in anti-Semitic hate speech online in recent years. Some actors, including municipal-level public officials, have characterized a planned mosque complex in Helsinki as a security threat.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
There are no impediments to open and free private discussion.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Freedom of assembly is protected by law and upheld in practice.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations operate without restriction.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
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.
F. RULE OF LAW: 16 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts operate without political interference in practice.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
Due process is generally respected in Finland.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
People in Finland generally enjoy freedom from violent attacks by state and nonstate actors. However, in August 2017, a Moroccan man who had arrived in Finland as an asylum seeker the previous year killed two women and injured eight additional people in a knife attack. The attacker appeared to target women, and the incident was being investigated as Finland’s first terrorist attack. Police had previously flagged the man, who was arrested in the attack’s wake, as an extremist risk, and Finland raised its emergency readiness across the country. Security at airports and train stations was increased and more police officers were put on the streets.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4
The constitution guarantees the Sami people cultural autonomy and the right to pursue their traditional livelihoods, which include fishing and reindeer herding. However, representatives of the community have said 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 Finnish population, they are more significantly disadvantaged and marginalized.
Women enjoy equal rights, but despite a law stipulating equal pay for equal work, women earn only about 85 percent as much as men with the same qualifications.
In 2016, Finland amended its asylum law to limit the aid available to asylum seekers. The amendments prompted concern from the UN refugee agency, which suggested that Finland abandoned good practices and sought to align its policies with the minimum required by international treaties governing the treatment of refugees.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 16 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
Individuals in Finland may move about freely. 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 as long as the privacy of a private residence is not violated and no environmental damage is incurred.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
Intellectual and physical property rights are upheld in Finland. There are no major obstacles to establishing a business, and the country boasts a well-regulated, transparent, and open economy.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
People’s social choices are for the most part unrestricted. However, legislation requires that transgender people be sterilized and have a mental health diagnosis in order to obtain legal recognition of their gender. In May, the UNHRC called for Finland to eliminate these impediments to legal gender recognition. 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. Domestic violence is an ongoing concern.
A law allowing same-sex marriage took effect in March 2017.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4
Finland remains a destination and a transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and labor exploitation in various industries. According to the U.S. State Department, the government actively prosecutes trafficking offenses, and victims have access to protection and assistance, though victim identification remained a challenge, particularly child victims.
Separately, in January 2017, Finland launched a two-year trial of basic income for the unemployed aimed at reducing poverty and boosting employment.