Presumably, few people would answer to all of these questions with an unreserved “yes”, even if they have basic confidence in the Finnish decision-making processes. Yet the framework that governs those processes is not set in stone, but keeps developing. A significant recent addition to it is the system of citizens’ initiatives.”
“While governments have thrown out gigabytes of data “to promote transparency,” few — Finland being among them — have done much truly to “empower citizens,” and certainly not the U.K.”
“The problem, said Joonas Pekkanen, a democracy campaigner in Finland, is that there is no sense of empowerment. “Why should the people take it seriously if the government doesn’t take it seriously? You need to change the constitution and give people enough power that they feel they have actual power.”
Finland has done exactly that. Last year it passed the Finnish Citizen’s Initiative, which allows citizens to draft legislation that has to be debated by Parliament.
The idea is powerful because “the politicians now have lost their monopoly on setting their own agenda,” Mr. Pekkanen said. “Now they can be forced to take a process, suggestions that they would never want or come around to putting on their agenda.”
To-be-debated proposals must garner the support of 50,000 people within six months. Although the first proposal, on fur farming, was voted down by Parliament, two more have passed the threshold, one on same-sex marriage and one on copyright laws. They will both be debated.
Mr. Pekkanen said the power lies in crowdsourcing actual draft legislation, not merely in instructing Parliament to debate a topic.
Pretty much every new technology since the printing press has promised to change government; few have. Why should the Internet be any different?”
The main new broadcast in Finland (MTV3 10 o’clock news) on July 22nd of 2013.
The crowdsourced citizens initiative passed the required 50 000 (or 1,2% of the voting population) hurdle to merit parliamentary process.
“This marks a major paradigm shift for internet democracy and consumer rights. Not only in Finland but internationally. This is in fact the start of an international consumer campaign for deeper copyright reform including other organizations who perform these tasks daily such as La Quadrature du Net in France and individuals like Derek Khanna’s camp in the USA. We are all struggling with the vice grip the Entertainment Industries and Silicon Valley have on us - and very few can even begin to understand or map out the manipulation that occurs to this effect on a global scale. Today, we achieved a win, but this is only the beginning in a long road towards separating Industry and State.”
Lex Snowden: Finns are aiming to provide whistleblowers political asylum via a citizens initiative
A Citizen Initiative dubbed Yes we can - Law for protecting freedom of speach and privacy internationally (Lex Snowden) calls for the criminalisation of spying on citizens and for a safe harbour for whistleblowers in Finland
The initiative proposes to criminalize spying on Finnish citizens. Companies taking part in spying on Finnish citizens could be prosecuted even if the crimes take place beyond Finnish borders and such companies could face a penalty of up to 25% of their turnover. In addition operators would need to disclose real-time information about all data requests by the government regarding personal communications.
Whistleblowers who disclose information about any material breaches of basic rights - the right to secure communications being such a basic right in Finland - would be granted safe passage and residence permit in Finland even if they do not carry a valid passport.
“Edward Snowden has been deprived of his right to effectively apply for political asylum by cancelling his passport. The law we are proposing would give Snowden safe passage to and residence in Finland and ensure that similar breaches of basic human rights will not go unrevealed in the future” says Joonas Pekkanen, chairman of Open Ministry a civil society organization focusing on improving the Finnish legislation through citizens initiatives. Citizens initiatives became possible in Finland in 2012 when a constititional amendment made it possible for 50 000 citizens to put bills directly on the parliaments agenda.
The campaign is organized by Electronic Frontier Finland (www.effi.org). Open Ministry and Effi have recently co-operated also on the internationally covered campaign to improve the copyright legislation in Finland. “We hope that this Lex Snowden initiative will also help us reach to 50 000 target for the copyright initiative within the remaining two weeks” says Pekkanen. The citizens initiatives have six months to gather the needed support which amounts to 1,2% of the voting population.
The Finnish Citizens Initiative takes a Punch from the Status Quo
Today the Parliaments Speakers’ Council published their guidelines on how the citizens’ initiatives that pass the 50 000 supporters threshold will be handled in parliament.
The guidelines are a disappointment. As other bills, citizens’ initiatives are sent to a committee that would normally hear experts and prepare a statement on the bill, which would then be voted on by the parliament.
The Speakers Council decided, however, that in the case of citizens’ initiatives the committee does not need to give a statement “if it does not want to”. This would mean that the initiative would not be voted on by the parliament. The council specifically referred to political reasons as possible reasons for not giving a statement on a proposal, thus blocking it from the normal parlimantary process.
These guidelines are not in the spirit of the original constitutional amendment that promised citizens a chance “to directly influence the political agenda and to have the parliament process the initiative”.
The Open Ministry will continue its efforts to protect the fledgling initiative right in Finland. We will announce next steps soon.
Chairman of the Open Ministry, Member of the Board of Open Knowledge Finland, Member of the Finnish Open Government Partnership committee
The initiative rewrote the history of internet democracy as almost 3% of the whole voting population signed the initiative electronically on the very first day. The threshold of 50 000 supporters needed to pass the initiative to Parliament was met within 9 hours of launching the campaign and by midnight some 120 000 people had signed the initiative with their online bank codes or mobile phone.
The Open Ministry has actively lobbied the Parliament directly and through press to ensure that Citizens Initiatives would be handled in Parliament in a decent manner. The Speaker’s Council considered giving Citizens Initiatives a lower status than bills proposed by a majority of MP’s (although originally the law intended citizens initiatives and majority bills to be handled in a similar fashion).
Due to the public outcry the Speakers Council has now asked the parties in Parliament to issue statements by April the 8th. The council will then issue the protocol on how initiative are to be dealt with in Parliament.