First Citizens’ Initiative Receives Parliamentary Majority in Finland
Inspired by the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), Finland also introduced a national citizens’ initiative, which has been in force since March 1, 2012. So far eight Finnish Citizens’ Initiatives (FCI) have been registered, among them the “I Do 2013” campaign on same sex marriages, which collected more than thrice the 50,000 required signatures for submission to the Finnish Parliament.
“We had some 167,000 supporters and more than 156,000 of them were online. More than 100,000 in the first 24h of launch. This was a one-off individual case but proves that we have moved in to a new era on online democracy” sais one of the initiators Joonas Pekkanen.
Today (28/11/2014) the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta) approved the bill proposed by the Finnish Citizens’ Initiative with a vote of 105 to 92, with one MP absent. This is the first successful citizens’ initiative in Finland that was not only brought into the ordinary legislative process but actually gained a majority in Parliament leading to a change in the law.
This is an essential element of a truly democratic procedure and one that must bring about a change in the ECI rules when it comes to the revision of the instrument in 2015. Every ‘successful’ ECI – i.e. one that secures the minimum one million signatures of support – should ideally lead to a legislative proposal addressed to the Council and the European Parliament, which is then debated following standard EU legislative procedures. Only then we can expect an adequate and serious debate on a new citizen-initiated proposal.
There are further lessons to be learned from how Finland is implementing the citizens’ initiative right. In fact, it is designed in a more citizen-friendly way than in other Member States or at the EU level. There are no pre-registration requirements and one can sign electronically with a bank I.D. or by mobile phone. There is a six-month deadline for collecting the minimum 50,000 electronic and/or paper signatures, which constitute 1.08 % of the Finnish electorate. Moreover, FCI’s can be both agenda and legislative initiatives.
Finland is already a role-model in terms of its citizen-friendly implementation rules for the ECI as it does not require such intrusive data as ID numbers. The signatory has only to indicate their name, country of residence, nationality and date of birth. And this rule also applies to any European citizen residing in Finland and to any Finn, irrespective of his or her place of residence. In contrast, the most demanding signature form is the one chosen by Italy, Austria and France where the signatories have to indicate their name, place of residence, street, house number, postal code, city, country, date of birth, place of birth, nationality and a personal identification number. This burdensome approach has deterred thousands of citizens from signing an ECI and is a nightmare for transnational campaigners who may be working with up to 28 different national authorities for signature validation. Contradictory rules also mean thousands of expatriate EU citizens cannot at present support an ECI.
None of these problems exist for Finnish citizens due to the simplified and user-friendly rules. If Finland can design user-friendly citizens‘ initiative rules the rest of the EU can and should follow its example when it comes to the revision of the ECI rules in 2015. Otherwise the ECI will not be kept alive.
All in all, currently 14 EU member states have citizens’ initiatives at a national level:
|Country||Population (millions)||Signatures required||As a percentage of the electorate||Type of initiative|
Types of initiatives: A: agenda citizens’ initiative B: popular citizens’ initiative
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