The Country: Finland is a country in the northern Europe, its surface is 324.000 km2 and it has a population of 5,4 mill inhabitants. It is known as a country of thousands of lakes and has vast areas covered with mainly pine forests. It borders the Baltic Sea – Gulf of Finland in the South and Gulf of Bothnia in the West. It has three neighboring countries, Sweden, Norway and Russia.
Finland has been independent since 1917. It is a Republic and its President can be elected to two six years long terms at the direct elections. It has two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Culturally Finland belongs to the group of Nordic countries. Helsinki is the Finnish capital and lies on the Southern coast.
The Constitution. The first Finnish constitution dates back from 1919. The current Constitution of the year 2000, is an internationally modern constitution of democratic and parliamentary welfare state. The Constitution contains basic provisions on the exercise of legislative, executive and judicial powers, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. It guarantees the freedoms and rights of the individual and the right of the individual to participate in and influence public affairs.
The Finnish parliament is characterized by its unicameral structure and by its function as a multi-party forum for fundamental national decisions. Party pluralism is ensured by the electoral method, with proportional representation and large electoral method, with proportional representation and large electoral districts. The Parliament has 200 Members elected for four years. Last Parliament elections took place in 2015. The Parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee scrutinizes drafs for new legislation before passing the laws.
The Ministry of Justice is one of 12 sectoral Ministries and its responsibilities can be grouped in the following way:
– Preparation of legislation concerning the mandates of the highest state authorities. Development of the quality of laws in the other fields of legislation. The aim is to provide coherent and understandable legislation, which optimizes the tasks of the administration and provides functional judiciary.
– Development of election laws and organization of elections
– Assurance of the implementation of the legislation concerning national languages
– Implementation of human rights and their development
– Quality assurance of the judiciary and the administration. Free legal aid is an important element in the system as well as the improvement of the judicial services.
– Criminal policies aim at preventing crimes, sanctions are widely used in order to limit the numbers of prisoners
The Judiciary is divided in two sectors. The general courts in civil and criminal matters are the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts. The administrative courts are the Supreme Administrative Court and the regional Administrative Courts. Special courts are the Insurance Court and the Market Court.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman Institution is the second oldest in the world and was created in 1920. The Chancellor of Justice is the other authority to exercise the highest legality control in Finland.
Finland and EU
Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and is a member of the Schengen area. Finland has belonged to the Economic and Monetary Union, EMU since its creation in 1999 and has euro as the common currency. Finland nominates one Commissioner to the European Commission and has a quota of 13 members at the European Parliament. Of the current parliamentarians elected in 2014, 7 are female and 6 male.
The Council of the Finnish Government is the main coordination body and has the main responsibility together with the sectoral ministries in preparing Finnish EU policies. The Finnish parliament has a strong position in decision making as it concerns Finnish EU affairs. According to the Constitution, it has the right to be informed about the proposals under study within the EU and these proposals have also to be checked in the parliamentarian Grand Committee.
Finnish Rule of Law Activities in Central Asia
In 2008 Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) launched development cooperation in Central Asia under a “Wider Europe Initiative for Eastern Europe and Central Asia”. One of its themes was sustainable societal development and its flagship project was a large rule of law project (5 m€) that was started in July 2011 in Central Asia. It was called “Equal before the Law: Access to Justice” (EBL). Its focus was on improving the access of justice of three vulnerable groups – rural women, children and youth at risk and disabled people.
The Finnish Embassy in Astana looks after bilateral relations with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, whereas the bilateral relations with the other three countries are covered by Roving Ambassador who is accredited in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and who has her/his office in Helsinki. Therefore it was natural to look after implementation partners for the EBL project and there were two of them: the Eurasia Foundation and its local EFCA offices (Eurasia Foundation in Central Asia) and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The former looked after supporting CSOs and arranged several thematic conferences, whereas the latter provided training for officials on UN human rights conventions and shared the best practices both in the region as well as in Europe.
The EFCA offices also provided free legal aid in the countryside and training for civil servants and CSOs in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Their activities varied from assisting law faculties in improving curriculum by organizing courses on human rights and rule of law to students and scholars and by opening legal clinics in universities. Dr. Pekka Hallberg, former President of the Supreme Administrative Court published “Rule of Law – Prospects for Central Asia, Rural Areas and Human Problems”, which is available also in Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek languages. The Rule of Law development and constitutional prospects have been analyzed in this context. This book has proved to be useful and popular and it will be updated in early 2016. His other book is titled “Administrative Justice ” and has been translated into Russian.
As a part of the project, the Finnish MFA organized in March 2012 the first Conference of the Ombudsmen in Central Asia and it was attended by the ombudsmen of all five Central Asian countries. Two rule of law seminars have been organized in Turkmenistan in cooperation with the MFA and the Venice Commission in April 2013 and in February 2014. As a follow up, the Office of the Tajik Ombudsman requested support for capacity building which is given through our current UNDP project. It started with the mission of the Deputy Chancellor of Justice of Finland to Dushanbe in October 2014. In May 2015, a Study tour to Finland that was arranged for a Tajik delegation led by the Ombudsman. It focused to the role of the Finnish Parliamentary Ombudsman in monitoring closed institutions as well as in improving rights of the disabled people and those of children.
In continuation of former activities, the Finnish MFA started in January 2014 cooperation with UNDP Country Offices in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan named “Widening Access to Justice for Legal Empowerment in the Kyrgyz Republic” and “Strengthening Rule of Law and Human Rights to Empower People in Tajikistan”. They were prepared in compliance with Finland’s Government Development Policy Programme of 2012, which payed particular attention to the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan in Central Asia. Both will last four years and get a 2 m€ funding from the Finnish MFA. Attention is given to vulnerable groups and their needs. At the same time capacities of different national and local authorities, e.g. the Ombudsman´s office will be strengthened. In Tajikistan the project is a part of a larger Rule of Law program that started in 2012. Both UNDP projects are subject to an evaluation in 2016. It is hoped that the evaluation will contribute to the future work within the Rule of Law sector.
Besides the major projects, support has been given to smaller rule of law projects by the Astana Embassy and the Roving Ambassador that have had calls for project proposals.
Finland and the EU Rule of Law Initiative
Since 2012, Finland has participated in the EU Rule of Law activities by sending high level experts to the seminars and workshops arranged by the EU Rule of Law Platform and by participating both in the Conferences of the Justice Ministers of the EU and Central Asian countries in December 2012 and in October 2014. Finland has provided guidance and advice to the Rule of Law Platform at all its Steering Committee meetings.
On 17 September 2014, Finland hosted the Platform’s regional seminar on constitutional law in Helsinki, which was attended by constitutional law specialists and members of Constitutional Courts from the five partner Central Asian States. Following the seminar, a day of visit of Finnish rule of law institutions was organised, including the Supreme Court of Finland, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.
The Rule of Law activities belong to the Finnish priorities within the EU Strategy for Central Asia.