Strasbourg, 18-20 October 2011
Local and regional democracy in Finland
Recommendation 311 (2011)1
1. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe refers to:
a. Article 2, paragraph 1.b, of Statutory Resolution (2011) 2 relating to the Congress, which provides that one of the aims of the Congress shall be “to submit proposals to the Committee of Ministers in order to promote local and regional democracy”;
b. Article 2, paragraph 3, of Statutory Resolution (2011) 2 relating to the Congress, stipulating that “The Congress shall prepare on a regular basis country-by-country reports on the situation of local and regional democracy in all member states and in states which have applied to join the Council of Europe, and shall ensure, in particular, that the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government are implemented’’;
c. Recommendation 219 (2007) on the status of capital cities;
d. Recommendation 66 (1999) on regional democracy in Finland;
e. Congress Resolution 299 (2010), which provides that the Congress will use the Council of Europe Reference Framework for Regional Democracy [MCL-16(2009)11], in its monitoring activities, and the reply by the Committee of Ministers to Congress Recommendation 282 (2010) [CM/Cong(2011)Rec282 final], which encourages the governments of member states to take account of the above Reference Framework in connection with their policies and reforms;
f. the explanatory memorandum on local and regional democracy in Finland drawn up by Pia Bosch I Codola (Spain, R, SOC) and Jean-Louis Testud (France, L, EPP/CD), rapporteurs, following an official visit to the country from 30 November to 2 December 2010.
2. The Congress notes that:
a. Finland signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 14 June 1990 and ratified it on 3 June 1991 without making any reservations or declarations restricting its scope. The Charter entered into force in Finland on 1 October 1991;
b. Finland was among the first member states of the Council of Europe to sign the Additional Protocol to the Charter on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority, on 16 November 2009;
c. A delegation2 from the Congress Institutional Committee3 made a monitoring visit to Finland from 30 November to 2 December 2010. It visited Helsinki, Mariehamn (Åland Islands) and Kouvola.
3. The Congress wishes to thank the Permanent Delegation of Finland to the Council of Europe, the Finnish authorities at central, regional and local level, the authorities of the Province of Åland, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and all the other parties whom the delegation met for the information supplied.
4. The Congress notes with satisfaction that:
a. local democracy in Finland is a real cornerstone of democratic life in the country, which is reflected in political practice and enjoys recognition from national institutions and effective protection from the competent courts;
b. there is an exemplary culture of consultation and involvement of local authorities by central government in Finland;
c. cooperation and coordination between local and regional authorities is guaranteed by a powerful and influential association, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA), which is very closely involved in discussions with the government about all issues concerning local and regional authorities;
d. Finland has had an ombudsman since the 18th century, whose responsibilities include checking the lawfulness of the actions of local governments and their authorities and whose interventions make municipal services more efficient;
e. all Finnish citizens are entitled to appeal against decisions by local authorities, a practice which should be established more widely throughout Europe;
f. all Finnish citizens have the statutory right to receive basic services, including education, in their mother tongues (Finnish or Swedish);
g. Finland signed the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority on 16 November 2009;
h. for historic reasons and because of their specific situation, the Åland Islands have a special status which complies with the principles laid down in the Council of Europe Reference Framework for Regional Democracy.
5. The Congress notes that the following points call for particular attention:
a. some municipalities have unbalanced budgets and are heavily indebted. Their number is likely to rise because of the increasing expenditure in the health, education and welfare sectors;
b. central government has recently launched a reorganisation of deconcentrated public services in all regions, which may result in transfers of powers from municipalities to central government;
c. the Ombudsman’s institution, whose effectiveness has been proven, nevertheless lacks resources for stepping up its work at local level, in particular for carrying out studies and and investigations on its own initiative (self-tasking).
6. The Congress recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite the Finnish authorities:
a. to take steps to limit local deficits so as to avoid excessive indebtedness of certain municipalities in keeping with the principle of balanced budgets laid down by law;
b. to evaluate, together with the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, the repercussions for local self-government of the rationalisation of central government’s regional administrative structures;
c. to strengthen the role of the Ombudsman at local level by increasing funding so as to optimise the operation of the institution;
d. to ensure an equal standard of basic services throughout the country, if necessary by means of additional transfers from central government to municipalities with deficits;
e. to ratify, in the near future, the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority (CETS No. 207), as well as Additional Protocols to the European Additional Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities (ETS No. 159, ETS No. 169 and CETS No. 206).
1 Debated and adopted by the Congress on 18 October 2011, 1st sitting (see document CG(21)13 explanatory memorandum), Rapporteur: J.L. Testud, France (L, EPP/CD).
2 By decision of the Institutional Committee of the Congress, Pia Bosch I Codola (Spain, R, SOC) and Jean-Louis Testud (France, L, EPP), were appointed rapporteurs on local and regional democracy in Finland respectively. The rapporteurs were assisted by Bernd Semmelroggen, consultant, member of the Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. As Ms Pia Bosch I Codola’s term as a member of the Congress ended in June 2011, the preliminary draft recommendation is presented by Mr Jean-Louis Testud, rapporteur for local democracy.
3 Following the reform of the Congress, this committee's monitoring activities were taken over by the Monitoring Committee on 1 December 2010.