Minister of Justice Antti Häkkänen´s speech in Finland 100 & the Rule of Law day in Finlandia Hall on 31 October 2017
Dear guests, dear friends,
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to open this seminar celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence, focusing on the rule of law and fundamental rights. Finland is, indeed, almost one hundred years old. During this century of independence, we have managed to build a strong welfare state that is ranked high in a number of international comparisons. We do have many reasons to be proud of our country and our history.
King Charles XV (the Fifteenth), the King of Sweden and Norway, had as his motto “Land skall med lag byggas” – “a state is built by law”. Finland has a strong legal history dating back to the times when we were part of the Swedish Kingdom; ever since our system has been based on strong constitutional rights. It was the law book that protected the Finnish existence during the 19th century and led Finland towards its independence.
Because of our history and because of the European history, joining the European Union in 1995 was a choice of values for Finland. Finland´s application to become a member of the European Communities was sent to Brussels the same year Francis Fukuyama published his famous book “The End of History”. It did, truly, seem that the end of the cold war meant the final victory of liberal democracies over authoritarian rule.
We now know that history did not end in 1992. Authoritarian thoughts are lurking behind the curtains and calls are made for the emergence of more authoritarian leaders. Political landscapes change rapidly, new political parties pop up and disappear again, and fake news is, all of a sudden, a term we use every day.
I have invited you here today to discuss the future of Finland and the future of Europe. I am convinced that the future will be shaped by our ability to protect and develop democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
Let´s start with democracy.
The Finnish Ministry of Justice is in the process of implementing a Government Action Plan for Democracy Policy. The Finnish democracy is strong and highly respected both by Finnish citizens and internationally. I wish that (my friend) Commissioner Jourová could after returning to Brussels relay a message about the Finnish experience of what makes a democracy strong: solid civil society, high level of education, low hierarchies combined with good governance, openness and transparency, persistent anti-corruption work and low level of corruption, media freedom, and a tradition of safeguarding equality for all. The Finnish society is stable and citizens trust the institutions that protect the rule of law.
Having said that, we do recognize that we have some weaknesses as well. I am alarmed by the low voter turnout among young people. The numbers are going down in Europe and even globally, but the decline has been particularly rapid in Finland. For instance, in the 2015 parliamentary elections, only 47% of young eligible voters under the age of 25 used their right to vote, compared to 69% of all eligible voters. What is at stake here is the legitimacy of the parliamentary democracy and the legitimacy of the political decision-making. We have to build new platforms for participation, consultation and involvement. The citizens’ initiative is one of the instruments that have proven their value both in Finland and in the EU, but we need to work harder to reach out to the next generations. Looking towards the European Parliament elections in 2019, I am not convinced that introduction of pan-European voting lists would do the trick.
I am looking forward to the next Finland 100 event in the Finnish Parliament where we will have a Questions and Answers session with ministers answering questions presented by citizens, not by other Members of Parliament. Events like this aim to make political decision-making more approachable to the public and to raise interest among the younger population.
Independent and efficient judiciary is a key element of the Rule of law. At national level, Finland continues to reform the system for the administration of justice. Two weeks ago I launched a project which aims to separate the political decision-making even more clearly from the judiciary in Finland. The purpose of the project is to set up a new national council for the judiciary in order to transfer tasks related to the administration of courts from the Ministry of Justice to an independent agency.
At European level, the Rule of law has never been as high on the European agenda as today. This is good news – or is it?
The underlying idea of the European Union is that all EU actions reflect the same system of values. These values contribute to the coherence, unity and consistency of the Union’s legal order and law, safeguarded by the European Court of Justice. It is the common values that create a special identity for the European society.
A number of issues in the European Union tie us together. Common European budget. Common European legislation. Common European citizenship. Common European judicial review by the European Court of Justice. Common European institutions. Common European single market and area of free movement. There are more and more EU citizens using the right of free movement, living in another EU country to work or study there, or using the possibilities for online shoppingat a company established in another country. There are already more than 100,000 Finnish citizens living in another EU country.
Well-functioning, stable and predictable justice systems also play an important role in determining economic performance and in boosting investments. This interdependence between justice and competitiveness must be recognized both at national and at European level, since the European single market is built on common rules and legislation and their uniform application. Various studies show that stable justice systems strengthen economic growth. Therefore the adherence to the Rule of Law is crucial for the functioning of the internal market and thus for the success of the European Union in global competition.
The European Union is also an area of Freedom, Security and Justice. European cooperation in these fields touches deeply our citizens´ everyday lives, privacy and fundamental rights. The cooperation is based on mutual recognition of court and administrative decisions between the Member States. This requires strong mutual trust between the courts and other judicial authorities.
At worst, violations of the Rule of Law in some EU countries may hinder the realisation of all these objectives of the European Union, including the economic objectives.
For this reason, strengthening the adherence to the Rule of Law in the European Union is our common task. Important progress in this field has been made, and Finland has persistently pushed for these reforms. We now have more tools at our disposal to protect the Rule of Law. The Commission is to be thanked for reporting on the implementation of the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, for developing a new Rule of Law Framework for the EU in 2014 - and for applying it, despite the criticism. The Estonian Presidency of the European Union is to be thanked for requesting the EU justice ministers to renew their commitment to fundamental rights by adopting the Council conclusions a couple of weeks ago and for holding the annual Rule of Law Dialogue of the Council on a topic highly relevant for us all: media pluralism. Hate speech, fake news, incitement to hatred and online extremism are challenges that all EU countries face today and should tackle and discuss together.
When it comes to future measures, Finland continues to be demanding, because the enhancement of the Rule of Law requires determined and long-term efforts. The common values, common foundation and mutual trust have enabled EU Member States to engage in cooperation that is in many respects deeper and more advanced than, for example, the cooperation taking place between the member countries of the Council of Europe. Fractures in the common foundation might affect the future orientation of the EU as a whole. Erosion of mutual trust and common values may well spur the development towards a multi-speed Europe even in areas where we should vote for unity.
Democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand with human rights.
Today, the Finnish Constitution includes a modern “Bill of Rights” that meets the international standards and guarantees the fundamental rights; under section 22 of the Constitution, the public authorities shall guarantee the observance of basic rights and liberties and human rights.
This sends a strong message to the legislature and to the administrative branches. Despite the fact that legislation may well be up-to-date, its implementation requires constant vigilance.
The European Charter for Fundamental Rights has been legally binding since 2009. Fundamental and human rights are an integral part of any legal system based on the Rule of Law; the rights laid down in the national constitutions, the Charter and international treaties must be translated into reality in the lives of European citizens.
The afternoon session of today’s seminar will discuss two important human rights topics: linguistic rights and the rights of LGBTI people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons). Finland has always been linguistically diverse, and our experiences provide a good foundation for the integration of new linguistic groups as well. The enjoyment of linguistic rights can be a precondition for access to other fundamental rights.
According to a recent study by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, LGBTI people still face discrimination at all stages of their lives – at school, at work and in their private lives. Experiences of discrimination are not just personal tragedies for the individuals concerned – they are also a senseless waste of human potential. Through a project called Rainbow Rights, the Ministry of Justice is promoting equality and non-discrimination of LGBTI people in Finland and in the Baltic countries. The project also supports the implementation of the EU Commission’s “List of Actions to advance LGBTI equality” in Europe, for example by enhancing cooperation between the public sector and NGO actors. Today and in the future, EU funding for fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law are more needed than ever before.
Human rights, democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand. If not the European Union, who could be the world leader in the field of human rights and the rule of law? The credibility of the human rights dialogues that the Union conducts with third countries requires a sound and stable fundamental rights architecture in the EU. We are not there yet. I urge the European Union to accede to the European Human Rights Convention, as required by the Lisbon Treaty. I also urge the Commission to make a proposal on transforming the European Fundamental Rights Agency into a European Human Rights Agency. According to my vision, this would provide us policy makers and legislators with guidance on fundamental rights impacts and advice on both the positive and the alarming trends in the state of human rights in the EU.
Earlier this month, the Finnish Government adopted a national Internal Security Strategy, a roadmap for ensuring that Finland will be the safest country in the world. According to the strategy, the key challenge to the internal security of our country is the growing social exclusion in its various forms.
Furthermore, the European Commission recently published its 11th progress report on the implementation of the European Agenda on Security, paving the way towards a genuine Security Union. By its side we need a genuine Justice Union supporting the realisation of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Without this balance, I fear that we live in a house of cards.
You represent the key players for the future of Europe and Finland, where the rule of law, human rights and democracy constitute the pillars of safe and open societies. These pillars also provide a relevant framework for responding to topical phenomena such as globalisation, migration, changes in working life, climate change and diversity of identities.
I have invited you here today to reflect upon the state of play of the principle of the rule of law and fundamental rights in our societies. It is necessary, both in Europe and in Finland, to build trust through dialogue and to promote the full realisation of the freedom of speech without fear. This seminar provides opportunities for dialogue and for better understanding the interconnectedness of democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights in diverse societies.
Colleagues and friends from the EU, government bodies, universities and NGOs: welcome!