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Anni Sinnemäki is a member of the Finnish Parliament and former Minister for Labour, representing the Green League.This spring session in the Finnish parliament was historical. For the first time ever, Parliament received a citizen’s initiative.

Finnish citizens have had the right to make citizen’s initiatives since March 2012. Citizen’s law proposals are taken to Parliament if they get a minimum of 50,000 signatures.

Since the topic of fur farming has been so heated, I felt a bit nervous how the parliament would take the proposal.

The first proposal dealt with animal welfare and proposed a ban on fur farming. It was initiated by three animal rights groups and Nature League, a youth environmental organisation. Animal rights have been a controversial topic in Finnish political discussion, partly due to direct action by anonymous activists who released animals from the farms in the mid-1990s. Lately, activists have been shooting footage from the farms, exposing serious problems in the treatment of the foxes and minks.

This is of course also a very European discussion. For example the Netherlands, the world’s third largest producer of mink fur, will be free of fur farms by the year 2025. The Dutch Parliament decided to ban fur farming with a transition period in December 2012.

In Finland, the bill to ban fur farming received altogether 70,000 signatures, which is quite a number considering the population of 5.3 million. The majority of the signatures were collected by the activists talking to people on the streets, at festivals and in some shops that supported the initiative.

At the moment it is already possible to sign citizen’s bills online, so the bill to ban fur farming will probably remain the only initiative that has been signed mainly with pen on paper.

The citizen’s initiative provides a way for people and non-governmental organisations to influence parliament directly. Because of the representative nature of Finnish democracy, it is up to Parliament to treat the initiatives with due respect.

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