Mauri Peltokangas (PS), the chairperson of the Parliament’s Administration Committee, spoke to reporters after the committee had finalised its report on a controversial bill for measures to combat instrumentalised migration in the Parliament House in Helsinki on Tuesday, 9 July 2024. Peltokangas argued that the report is harmonious with EU law “to the extent that the committee so decided”. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)


THE PARLIAMENT’S Administration Committee unveiled yesterday a handful of revisions to the much-discussed government bill for measures to combat instrumentalised migration.

The committee expanded the right of parliament to access information, added a section about the legal protection of people removed from the country and clarified the section on the actions of border guards.

The revisions fell woefully short of convincing legal experts of the lawfulness of the bill, reported YLE and Helsingin Sanomat.

“From EU law’s viewpoint, it’s totally incomprehensible to think that you could decide, even by a five-sixths majority, in Finland that EU law doesn’t suddenly apply in some circumstances. What if all member states did the same?” Juha Raitio, a professor of European law at the University of Helsinki, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.

“The committee has clearly failed to understand what the primacy principle of EU law means.”

The bill would enable the government and president to temporarily bar people from applying for asylum at or in the immediate vicinity of national borders without the right to appeal. Migrants could not only be prevented from entering the country, but also returned to the other side of the border without evaluating their asylum claim.

It would therefore clash with three key rights protected under EU law: the right to apply for asylum, the non-refoulement principle and the right to an effective remedy and fair trial.

Mauri Peltokangas (PS), the chairperson of the Administration Committee, on Tuesday argued that the report issued by the committee is harmonious with union law “to the extent that the committee has so decided,” according to Helsingin Sanomat.

The revisions made by the committee are relatively minor, estimated Päivi Leino-Sandberg, a professor of transnational European law at the University of Helsinki.

“The general impression is that the committee didn’t even really try to solve the problems linked to EU law, but instead it focused on justifying why the act can be enacted regardless of EU law,” she summarised to Helsingin Sanomat.

The Administration Committee sought to guarantee the right to an effective remedy by adding a provision stating that migrants can request that their removal is re-examined by the Finnish Border Guard. They would not, though, be allowed to wait for the results of the re-examination in the country and have the opportunity to appeal against the result.

“In practice, this doesn’t change the issue in any way from the viewpoint of EU law,” said Raitio.

Milka Sormunen, a post-doctoral researcher in public law at the University of Helsinki, told YLE that the committee placed emphasis on the training that is to be provided to border guards to enable them to determine whether a migrant should be allowed to submit an asylum claim.

“That doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that during a short interaction at the border – no matter how qualified the border guard – it isn’t possible to make the kind of assessment that EU law requires,” she said to the public broadcasting company.

Both Raitio and Leino-Sandberg viewed to Helsingin Sanomat that it would be impossible for border guards to enforce the special act without simultaneously violating union law and international obligations.

“And this decision would have to be made independently, during a very short interaction before the migrant is returned to the other side of the eastern border. The situation is awful from the perspective of individual border guards,” said Leino-Sandberg.

The Administration Committee argued that EU courts have not ruled “directly” on “instrumentalised migration that is part of a hostile influence campaign by a foreign power”.

“The claim that courts haven’t dealt with similar situations is simply not true,” countered Leino-Sandberg. “Every case is naturally dealt with separately, but it still doesn’t mean that member states can enact whatever laws they want for their of circumstance.”

Belarus has transferred migrants to the external borders of the 27-country bloc in a way that has been defined as hybrid influence and instrumentalised migration by both EU institutions and the targets of the campaign, she highlighted, pointing to a recent ruling concerning Lithuania.

In Finland, she added, the number of arrivals has been low compared with the numbers in Lithuania and Poland. While the Finnish land border was last winter crossed illegally by about 30 people following the closure of border-crossing points, Lithuania and Poland have detected thousands of illegal entries and tens of thousands of attempted illegal entries since 2021.

Members of the Finnish Parliament are scheduled to vote on the bill on Friday. The bill must first be declared urgent by a five-sixths majority and then passed by a two-thirds majority, meaning the ruling coalition will require considerable support from the opposition.

Both the Green League and Left Alliance are intent on opposing the bill.

Leaders of the Social Democratic Party have remarked repeatedly that the revisions enable the opposition party to support the bill. Some of its members have proclaimed that they will nonetheless oppose the bill. Also the Swedish People’s Party, a member of the ruling coalition, is not expected to stand united behind the bill, given its decision to allow lawmakers to treat it as a conscience vote.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT