THE FINNISH PROCESS on EU legislation is lacking in three respects: promoting public participation, influencing law-making in advance and utilising process data, indicates a report published on Tuesday by the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra).
While Finland has sought to promote consensus in order to boost its bargaining power as a small member state, the effort has often come at the expense of public participation.
As Finnish citizens have only few opportunities to participate in preparing EU legislation, the adopted positions often reflect the position of the government and officialdom rather than the broader public, the report states.
“The participation opportunities of citizens are undermined by the fact that citizens struggle to comprehend the EU’s decision-making process in its entirety. Information at the EU and national level is scattered across sites maintained by various parties instead of being available in a single location,” the authors write.
Information typically does not become available to citizens until after the government has proposed its finalised position on a piece of EU legislation to the Finnish Parliament. The parliamentary process, meanwhile, takes place largely behind the closed doors of parliamentary committees, meaning that possible attempts to influence the union’s legislative initiatives in advance lack transparency.
“Consolidating the Parliament’s role in the national decision-making process on EU affairs also promotes public participation and democracy,” they state. “Although the Grand Committee’s role is formally central, in practice the decisions are often outlined earlier in the government-led phase by officials, EU sub-committees and the ministerial committee on EU affairs.”
“The Parliament’s actual possibilities to influence the process at this stage are limited.”
The authors believe the issue should be tackled by increasing communication about topical and upcoming legislative initiatives at the EU, organising public hearings on the most important initiatives and increasing public expert hearings at parliamentary committees.
The Finnish goal of strengthening the effort to influence legislation in advance, in turn, would require the adoption of more clearly defined strategic objectives and focus areas for lobbying that have been determined transparently in plenary sessions in the Parliament.
The authors believe the entire debate culture and activity should be shifted from reacting to initiatives presented by the commission to influencing them as early as the preliminary drafting phase. Furthermore a clearer framework should be established and sufficient funding guaranteed for coordinating advance influencing.
“In Finland, the official emphasis is on strong advance influence, but this is not supported by the practical process,” they state. “Formal lobbying mainly takes place at a late stage of the process (legislative proposal) rather than at the stage of the EU agenda taking shape (such as strategy and work programme).”
The report also draws attention to the critical role of open and high-quality data for developing and managing the process, and promoting public participation.
“The currently separate government and parliamentary data systems and their data should be consolidated to the extent possible and at least the technical interfaces should be opened so that the data is openly accessible,” the authors state. “Especially in regards to the process data, binding rules on aspects such as entry protocols have to be increased. The utilisation of data analytics has to be increased.”
The data derived from the legislative process should be utilised to analyse and develop the process and its management, with a particular focus on system integration and data compatibility.
The report was authored by researcher Laura Nordström, ex-lawmaker Jouni Backman and expert Lea Konttinen.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT