As I see it, my duty as an MP is to protect our citizens against terrorist attacks and other security-related incidents. In order to prevent terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism we need to adopt effective legislation and to approve solid budgets that empower our institutions.
An efficient way to keep our legislation up to date is by learning from nations, whose people have already been subjected to terrible and unpredicted terrorist attacks within their borders.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional intergovernmental security organisation in the world. I am a member of the counter-terrorism committee in the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly. In this capacity, I had the possibility to visit Norway recently and to learn from the terrorist attack which took place on Utøya Island in July 2011.
The visit to Utøya Island was an emotional and striking experience. A man disguised as a police officer shot dead 69 young people at a summer camp of the Labour Party on the 22nd of July. Before the shooting on the island, the perpetrator had exploded a bomb in the city center of Oslo. These terrorist attacks were the worst ever in any Nordic country. As parliamentarians, we paid tribute to the victims at the memorial places both in Utøya and in Oslo and we met with the victims' families.
In the aftermath of Utøya, Norway discovered it did not have a clear operating model for terrorist attacks. A tragedy of this magnitude had clearly been something that nobody could foresee or prepare for. The perpetrator was a born Norwegian and his violent acts were planned against the open, modern and pluralistic Norwegian way of life. This, more than anything, came as a shock to most Norwegians.
The actions of the authorities during and after the attack have been carefully evaluated afterward. The police were criticized for acting too slowly and inefficiently, whereas the health authorities were praised because they were able to save lives thanks to their effective and well-coordinated actions. A parliamentary committee was set up in order to evaluate what should be have been done differently. Nobody wanted to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
After the terrorist attacks in 2011, the Norwegian police forces have been upgraded and significant improvements in Norway's counter-terrorism legislation have been made. In 2013, for example, the penal code was amended such that "participation in" terrorist organisation was criminalised. This is something that has not yet been done in Finland or Sweden.
In Finland, terrorism is usually referred to as something that comes from outside Finnish borders. The Norwegian experience from Utøya, however, shows that terrorism can also be homegrown. Radicalisation is one of the major threats to our society at the moment. Therefore we must enable our authorities to take all necessary actions in order to detect, prevent and combat terrorism in all its forms. In Finland, for instance, the number of police officers per capita is significantly lower than that in Norway.
Having compared our terrorism legislation to some other western countries, I am convinced that our legislation in Finland needs to be strengthened. For this purpose, I left a law initiative in the Finnish Parliament together with one of my colleagues recently. Our goal is to amend the criminal code such that "belonging to" or "participation in" a terrorist organisation would be criminalised the same way as for example in Norway, Denmark, and France. The definition of a terrorist organisation would be made according to that of the United Nations' Security Council and that of the European Union.
Extremism is gaining an increased foothold in our society. Therefore, we have to be particularly vigilant in order not to forget our common goal: to protect our people against all kinds of terrorist threats. National Coalition Party not being a governing party at the moment, I expect that our government in power make all necessary changes to the legislation as well as to our criminal justice system in order to guarantee the security of our citizens.
In the evening of the Utøya attack, the Norwegian prime minister Jan Stoltenberg said it very clearly. "We must never give up our values. We must show that our open society can pass this test too. That the answer to violence is even more democracy. Even more humanity. But never naivety.”
This is the message that I would like to convey to my fellow citizens also in Finland.
Member of Parliament, National Coalition Party
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of Parliament are encouraged to contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.