The Finnish parliament house in Helsinki. LEHTIKUVA


A recent study by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has highlighted Estonia's more efficient and user-friendly system for handling citizen initiatives, suggesting that Finland could learn from its neighbor to enhance its own process. While Finland sees a growing interest in citizen initiatives, the system in place is deemed complex and in need of development.

In Estonia, any citizen can track the progress of initiatives through a single digital service, a convenience not available in Finland,

where understanding the parliamentary process is a prerequisite for following an initiative's journey. Estonian citizen initiatives, which can cover a wide range of proposals beyond legislation, must be addressed by the parliament within six months. In contrast, Finnish initiatives require detailed legal drafting and can take up to 15 months to process, with no set deadline for parliamentary action. As a result, many initiatives in Finland fall through, especially towards the end of electoral terms.

Sitra's report, which compares the citizen initiative systems of Finland and Estonia, aims to strengthen democracy and increase citizen participation. It suggests Finland could benefit from adopting aspects of Estonia's system to make the process more accessible and efficient.

Citizen initiatives have become a popular means of political participation in both countries over the past decade. In Finland, a significant portion of the population has engaged with this form of activism, with a record number of signatures collected in 2021. However, the Finnish system's stringent requirements and the lengthy process pose challenges to its effectiveness.

Onni Pekonen, a Sitra expert, points out that the Finnish system, with its formal demands and reliance on precise legal drafting, could be streamlined. "The process in Finland can lead to impactful changes, but it is cumbersome. Estonia's more citizen-centered approach offers valuable lessons," Pekonen comments.

Sitra's recommendations for Finland include enabling easier tracking of initiatives through a digital platform, preventing initiatives from expiring at the end of electoral terms, and integrating public hearings and reports as automatic parts of committee work. The introduction of other democratic innovations, such as citizen panels, could further support the design and decision-making process of citizen initiatives.

Moreover, Sitra suggests the creation of a new, simpler form of initiative that could allow citizens to bring issues to political discourse without the need for extensive legal drafting. This would offer a more accessible avenue for civic engagement, potentially enriching the Finnish democratic process.

As Estonia sets a benchmark for handling citizen initiatives with agility and transparency, Finland's pursuit of system improvements reflects a broader effort to foster a more inclusive and responsive democratic environment.