Open and equal participation. Summary of the Government s democracy policy report 2014 in easy to read language

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1 Open and equal participation Summary of the Government s democracy policy report 2014 in easy to read language

2

3 Open and equal participation Summary of the Government s democracy policy report 2014 in easy to read language Adapted by Pertti Rajala This publication is published in collaboration with Finnish Centre for Easy Read.

4 Ministry of Justice, Finland and Finnish Centre for Easy to Read, Helsinki 2014

5 TABLE OF CONTENTS 1 Introduction: Supporting citizen participation in decision-making 2 2 Representative democracy and how to improve it 3 3 Forms of direct democracy 5 4 Open administration and interaction 6 5 Active citizens and organisations 7 6 Diversity in democracy education 8 7 Finland and international work for democracy 9 8 Policies in the report 10 1

6 1 Introduction: Supporting citizen participation in decision-making Democracy means rule by the people. The democracy policy report is a document that describes what difficulties and possibilities democracy faces in Finland. This report was prepared by the Government. This is the first time that such a report is being given to Parliament. The biggest problem for democracy is that people do not vote as much as before. People are not as interested in voting in elections as they used to be. But recent studies show that citizens are becoming more pleased with how democracy works. Young people are also becoming more interested in politics. But this does not necessarily mean that people will begin to vote more in the near future. The democracy policy report is an invitation to Parliament, citizens and others to discuss the goals and means of democracy. 2

7 2 Representative democracy and how to improve it Finland is a representative democracy. In a representative democracy, the citizens elect representatives to make decisions. The elected representatives are responsible to the voters for making carefully thought-out and successful decisions. Every Finnish citizen aged 18 years or more has the right to vote in every national election and referendum (a popular vote on a particular issue) and to be a candidate in any election. Parliamentary elections, presidential elections and the European Parliament elections are national elections. Every Finnish citizen aged 18 years or more and every foreign national who lives in Finland permanently has the right to vote in every local election and local referendum. Local elections are for electing representatives to municipal councils. The way in which elections are organised must be improved so that representative democracy would work better. Elections that are held a short time apart are tiring for the political parties and for the voters. The party secretaries of the political parties have suggested that all national elections should be held on the third weekend in April. There should not be many elections in the same year. People would remember the dates of elections better. There should be more places where people can vote in advance. The goal is that voting should be as easy as possible for voters. 3

8 The voter turnout could be increased by having more ways to vote. Online voting would make voting easier and might get more young people to participate. The possibility of online voting and voting by mail should be explored. Both of these methods would improve the possibilities particularly for disabled persons to vote. However, there are problems with election secrecy and information security in online voting. The Internet and the social media should be used to provide more information on elections and on who has the right to vote. Young people, for example, look for information online and in the social media. More attention also needs to be given to getting immigrants involved in elections. 4

9 3 Forms of direct democracy Citizens increasingly want to participate in decision-making through direct democracy. The means of direct democracy include a referendum (popular vote), citizens initiatives and municipal initiatives. In these, citizens can participate in decision-making directly. A citizens initiative and a municipal initiative are suggestions that citizens can present to decision-makers in central government or local government (the municipality). The decision-makers then discuss the initiatives and make decisions based on them if necessary. Citizens initiatives make political debate livelier. They also increase people s interest in politics and may make more people vote. In Finland, a national initiative, municipal initiative or referendum is advisory in nature. This means that the political decision-makers have the power to make the final decision on any matter on which people vote in a referendum. The goal is to make it easier to hold municipal or local advisory referendums. Holding municipal referendums online and at the same time as elections could make people more interested in municipal elections and get more people to vote. 5

10 4 Open administration and interaction For democracy to function properly, matters must be prepared openly. Citizens must be told what matters are being prepared and how. The decision-makers must consult citizens and organisations during the preparation. Citizens must be able to use information produced by the administration. If the government does not develop channels to enable participation, or if people are not trained in how to use them, different population groups will not be able to participate in the democratic process equally. The Ministry of Justice has online services for creating and sending citizens initiatives and municipal initiatives. You can find these online at and They are available in Finnish and Swedish. You can find online services for consulting citizens and organisations at and They are available in Finnish and Swedish. 6

11 5 Active citizens and organisations Civic engagement plays an important role in society. Non-governmental organizations are a good place for citizens to participate in society and to have an influence. Organisations may play an important role for example in helping immigrants to participate in society. Non-governmental organizations are utilities. They are service organisations that provide services for ideological reasons. They do not seek financial profit. There is a clear need for a new kind of dialogue and for doing things together. We need the public sector, organisations and the private sector to work together. We must try out new ways of working and divide financial resources so that these new ways can be put into practice. 7

12 6 Diversity in democracy education Finns are generally fairly well informed about elections and the political system. Upper secondary schools are the best at giving democracy education. The most improvement is needed in the 1st to 6th grades of basic education and in vocational education. Studies show that children and teens can be taught to think positively about social participation and to be active in society. The earlier they are taught, the better this will succeed. Students should be given more opportunities for participating and influencing things at school. Community colleges, folk colleges, summer universities and learning centres give democracy education for adults. Organisations and other people are also important for democracy education. 8

13 7 Finland and international work for democracy Democracy does not work everywhere in the world. For example, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are basic democratic rights that are not available everywhere. Finland supports the development of societies that promote human rights and are democratic and responsible. Finland especially provides support for long-term partner countries. The purpose of work for democracy is to strengthen democratic processes and to help the civil society work better. Another purpose is to help citizens defend their rights. Finland aims to remove discrimination. Increasing openness and the right to participate is also important. Finland also considers it important to promote women s right to participate. It is more important than ever for us to support actions that help democratic development and human rights. 9

14 8 Policies in the report The Government wrote 23 policies to help promote democracy. The Government will later draw up an actionplan explaining how these policies will be put into practice. Policy 1: An action plan to strengthen democracy The Government will use this report and write an action plan to explain how the Government intends to strengthen democracy and to observe and evaluate the actions. The Government will also undertake research to support its democracy policy work. Policy 2: Social debate and active dialogue The Government will promote public debate and dialogue on democracy, also in the media. Policy 3: An election system that works better and getting people to vote more The party secretaries of the political parties in Parliament suggested that national and municipal elections should be held on the same date. This suggestion is being further prepared. Possibilities for introducing voting by mail and online voting will be explored. Information security problems will be taken into account. Municipalities will be encouraged to set up more voting places and to set them up in locations where people normally go. The possibilities of disabled persons to get to voting places will be improved. The voting places must be made accessible. 10

15 A study will be conducted at the next parliamentary election to find out how actively people vote, how actively citizens participate in society and how well the election system works. It is also important to find out how democracy works in terms of equality between men and women. Policy 4: Clear information about elections Publishing information about elections must be improved. It is particularly important to focus on young people and other groups who do not vote or participate in society very much. Communications must be prepared in different languages. Cooperation with immigrant organisations must continue. More information on the European Parliament elections in spring 2014 will be provided. People are given information about the European Parliament and its political groups. People are given information about Finland s political parties and their connections to European political parties. The accessibility of election information and campaign advertising will be improved. Policy 5: A better system of elected officials and possibilities for influence at the local level The work and influence of elected officials in municipalities will be supported. Women and men who work as elected officials will be helped to combine their duties, their jobs and family life. Policy 6: Equal decision-making Equal representation of women and men in the decision-making bodies of central and local government will be promoted. 11

16 Political parties will be encouraged to consider equality between women and men when they appoint candidates and when they fill elected posts. Policy 7: Children and young people involved in decision-making Municipalities should draw up an action plan for municipal participation and influence. This action plan should take into account possibilities for children under the age of 18 years to participate and have an influence. Municipalities will be required to appoint youth councils or similar groups. It must also be studied whether it would be possible to lower the age limit for municipal initiatives and citizens initiatives to 15 years. Policy 8: Immigrant participation Municipalities and the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment will be encouraged to improve their actions to help immigrants participate in society. They must engage with people and organisations who work with immigrants and in multicultural activities. Political parties must consider the position of immigrants in appointing candidates for elections and filling elected posts. Policy 9: More municipal referendums It will be made possible to hold municipal advisory referendums in connection with elections. The holding of municipal referendums online will be prepared. Particular attention will be paid to information security. 12

17 Policy 10: Better services for citizens initiatives and municipal initiatives During the term of the next Government, a study will be made on how the law on citizens initiatives has been put into practice. At the same time, it will be studied how online participation has been working. The resources needed to improve these services will be secured. Policy 11: More open government The monitoring and evaluation of the Government Programme will be openly posted online. The Government s online project register (HARE) will be revised so that it is easier to use. This reform will allow for the linking of the register with the hearing and participation procedures in government. The register will also help citizens find information. We will participate in international cooperation to find new operating models so that citizens can be truly involved in the administration and its planning. Policy 12: Interactive communication Central government communication will be improved to make it more interactive, clear and accessible. Operating principles for central government in the social media will be established. Communication and interaction in municipalities will be improved by adding rules on online communications to the new Local Government Act. Policy 13: More open information in administration More of the information in administration will be made freely available online. Basic information must be available free of charge. 13

18 Policy 14: Involving partners in preparation Various partners will be equally and accessibly able to participate and be heard in the preparation of legislation and development projects. Hearings will be included as part of the steering and management systems of ministries. Support services will be developed. The otakantaa.fi and lausuntopalvelu.fi online services will be used in the preparation of projects of ministries. Hearings of organisations and other partners in the preparation of EU matters will also be improved. Immigrant s views will be made heard in preparation, especially in matters concerning their living conditions. This will be achieved through immigrant communities. Policy 15: Equal preparation and hearing Ministries promote equality between women and men in preparing legislation and in holding hearings. Ministries invite organisations with expertise in gender equality matters to hearings. Special attention will be paid to the quota rules in gender equality legislation (requiring equal representation for women and men) when setting up working groups. Policy 16: Future talks by the Government The Government will introduce future talks as part of the government foresight report preparation. At these future talks, citizens and organisations will be able to discuss the challenges of the future and development needs. 14

19 Policy 17: Helping the civil society work better Non-governmental organizations will be helped to work better. This will be done by making it easier and more logical for organisations to apply for support and by providing more advisory services. Organisations will be supported for instance by giving money from the Slot Machine Association to large support programmes and by developing an online application process for support. Policy 18: More openness, interaction and equality in relations with the civil society It will be ensured that ministries have an action plan about relations with the civil society. This action plan may only concern Non-governmental organizations, or it may concern organisations and the civil society in general. Ministries will add gender equality goals to their action plans. Policy 19: Making volunteer work easier A working group will be appointed to find out how the legislation and instructions on volunteer work need to be improved. Policy 20: Democracy education to get young people to participate and influence School teaching will be improved so that students will be better taught about social participation. The work of student organisations at schools will be improved. 15

20 Cooperation between homes, schools and the civil society in democracy education will be strengthened. The content of democracy education in teacher training and further training will be improved. Interaction between schools and decision-makers will be increased. It is hoped that local and central government decision-makers and officials would visit schools to talk about social participation. A reform of the Youth Act will be introduced to find out how well the rules on the participation of young people in society are working. Policy 21: Finland is in favour of the rights and participation possibilities of women and people in a weak social position Finland considers it important to focus on eliminating discrimination in its international operations, in development cooperation and for instance in the giving of financial aid. Policy 22: Finland supports the role of the civil society and more openness in international decision-making Finland will make sure that non-governmental organizations can better participate in the work of international organisations and that matters are prepared and decisions made more openly. Freedom of speech and independent media are an important part of the strengthening of democracy internationally. 16

21 Policy 23: Finland s democracy policy is the same at home and abroad Finland s democracy policy at home and abroad is based on international rules, our own constitution and the concept of democracy that is written into our laws. 17

22 Oikeusministeriö PL VALTIONEUVOSTO Ministry of Justice, Finland P.O. Box 25 FI Government

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