Finland Times

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Home NATIONALCitizens’ initiatives become popular
Mon, 12 Dec, 2016 11:00:39 PM
FTimes Report, Dec 12

The citizens’ initiative scheme has become very popular in a short time, with almost a third of those entitled to vote having signed at least one initiative, according to a study report.

The University of Turku has conducted the extensive study on the use and impacts of the forms of citizens’ influence in Finland, said a press release.

Even if the Parliament has rejected most of the initiatives, both the researchers and citizens see that the scheme has potential to strengthen democracy.

The study was concerned with the use and impacts of citizens’ influence both nationally and locally. Citizens’ initiatives are the most widely used form of citizens’ influence.

On average they are used more by people who are politically active, but the users also included politically marginalised groups such as the employed and young people.

By this autumn more than two million people had signed a citizens’ initiative. So far more than 500 initiatives have been submitted, but the most successful initiatives accumulated the majority of the signatures. Behind the initiatives there are both traditional associations and new forms of civic activity, which was also the aim of the initiatives.

The quite exceptional opportunity for the citizens to submit initiatives in electronic form has increased diversity among those who launch and sign citizens’ initiatives.

“Finding little support may not be a problem as even a small number of signatures may be a signal to those who launched the initiative.

The initiatives have brought matters onto the political discussion agenda that otherwise could have been overlooked”, says Henrik Serup Christensen, Academy Researcher at the Åbo Akademi University.

Initiatives have been widely discussed in the media. The only initiative approved by the Parliament so far is one concerning the gender-neutral Marriage Act, but some of the initiatives have still steered the development into the desired direction. One of the most obvious examples of this is the regional language education experiment approved as a motion by the previous Parliament when considering the citizens’ initiative and now also included in the Government Programme.

Even if people are well aware of the quite modest performance of the initiatives, the citizens’ see them as a welcome addition to our democracy. Almost 80 per cent of the people consider that they have improved the Finnish democracy.

“Our report presents the most comprehensive study of democracy innovations in Finland. We found out that even if the types of innovations and the purposes they are used for vary a great deal, more interaction and openness is needed in the ways citizens’ inputs are being considered by the decision-makers. This would strengthen democracy, both in local governments and parliamentary contexts”, says Professor Maija Setälä.

The study “Democratic innovations in Finland – use and impacts on the local and national level” was conducted as part of the Government plan for analysis, assessment and research. The study was carried out by Professor Maija Setälä, Academy Researcher Henrik Serup Christensen, Doctoral Student Maija Jäske and Project Researcher Elias Laitinen.


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