Finland | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Finland

Finland

Free
100/100
Overview: 

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: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In January, former finance minister and current president Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party (KOK) handily won a second presidential term in elections considered free and fair.
  • In October, the parliament overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that provided an exception to the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy, applicable in instances where intelligence-gathering operations are undertaken in the interest of national security. The move paved the way for the eventual implementation of an intelligence bill that if approved, would expand government surveillance powers.
  • In June, Abderrahman Bouanane, the Moroccan asylum seeker who killed two women and injured eight people in a knife attack in Turku in 2017, was found guilty of two counts of murder with terrorist intent, and eight counts of attempted murder with terrorist intent, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The ruling marked the first time a crime had legally been classified as terrorism in Finland.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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. In January 2018, former finance minister and incumbent president Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party (KOK) won a second presidential term with 62.6 percent of the vote. The elections were considered broadly free and fair.

The prime minister is head of government, and is selected by Finland’s freely elected parliament. Center Party (KESK) leader Juha Sipilä became prime minister in 2015, after his party took the greatest number of seats in the year’s parliamentary elections and formed a coalition government.

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 themselves.

KESK took the greatest number of seats, with 49, and formed a government with KOK and the Finns Party; Sipilä, KESK’s leader, became prime minister. The next parliamentary elections are set for April 2019.

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 according to popular support and political developments.

In June 2017, the anti-immigrant 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.

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, and there are no impediments to the rotation of power.

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 population of northern Finland, who constitute about 0.1 percent of the population, enjoy full civil and political rights. They have a legislature with limited powers, but they do not have guaranteed representation in the parliament. Members of the Sami 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 (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. However, in March 2018, the Council of Europe’s anticorruption agency urged Finland to bolster corruption prevention and detection policies within government and law enforcement agencies, including by increasing whistleblower protection. It further warned of possible risks of public-private sector conflicts of interest in the government’s planned social and health care system reforms.

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, 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. Companies perceive corruption risks and favoritism within public procurement as low, however “old boys’ networks,” notably at the local level, are still believed to hold influence over procurement decisions.

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. Finland ranked as first in the European Union (EU) for public trust in the media, according to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in March 2018.

However, decreasing advertising spending continues to pose a challenge for the media sector, especially for print publications. Separately, in recent years the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF) has filed formal complaints with the Finnish prosecutor’s office over its reluctance to press charges in connection with the severe harassment of journalists, notably those who cover topics related to immigrants and immigration.

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, characterized a planned mosque complex in Helsinki as a security threat. (Helsinki’s Urban Environment Division rejected the proposal to build it in December 2017, citing issues with sustainable funding, but the project manager has pledged to continue pursuing its construction.)

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 few impediments to open and free private discussion. However, in January 2018, the parliament began debating an intelligence bill that would expand the government’s surveillance powers. The bill came in response to a 2017 attack in Turku in which an assailant killed two women and injured eight other people in a knife attack considered the country’s first-ever terrorist attack. The bill would permit intelligence agencies to access confidential exchanges between people deemed a potential threat to national security. Critics have raised concerns that if passed, the bill would threaten individual privacy.

In October 2018, in an apparent move to facilitate the intelligence law’s eventual approval and implementation, the parliament overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that provided an exception to the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. The exception is applicable to intelligence-gathering operations undertaken in the interest of national security.

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 (NGOs) 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. The results of a Eurobarometer survey conducted in March 2018 showed that 83 percent of those surveyed had expressed trust in the legal system.

In April 2018, the trial of Abderrahman Bouanane, the Moroccan asylum seeker who killed two women and injured eight people in a knife attack in Turku in August 2017, commenced. In June, he was convicted of two counts of murder with terrorist intent, and eight counts of attempted murder with terrorist intent, and sentenced to life in prison. The ruling marks the first time a crime had legally been categorized as terrorism 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.

Following the August 2017 attack in Turku, a team from the Safety Investigation Authority conducted a report on the attack, and how to prevent similar incidents from occurring. Their report was released in June 2018 and recommended, among other things, improved governmental interagency communications, implementation of measures to reduce radicalization of asylum seekers, reducing the processing time for asylum decisions, and setting up a resource agency to offer assistance to asylum seekers during the asylum process.

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 face restrictions on land use. While Roma make up a very small percentage of the Finnish population, they are 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.

A 2018 EU report on discrimination against people of African descent in 12 EU member state, which was released in November 2018, found that Finland had the highest rate of respondents who had experienced racist harassment in the last 5 years (63 percent). The country also had the highest rate of respondents who said they had experienced racist violence during the same period (14 percent). Finnish police received more than 1,100 complaints related to suspected hate crimes in 2017, representing an 8 percent increase from 2016.

The National Police Board has attempted to ban the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi organization it has called “violent and openly racist.”

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. There are no restrictions on people’s ability to change their place of education or employment.

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. Same-sex marriage has been allowed since March 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 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.

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 US State Department, the government actively prosecutes trafficking offenses, and victims have access to protection and assistance, though victim identification remains a challenge, particularly for child victims.