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Jul 20, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

I bet you didn’t know this about Finland

According to the Finnish EU Minister, our concerns around Finnish rule of law are mere attempts to direct the attention away from us. But, in fact, our goal is simply to share some of these lesser-known facts that can help the independent spectator see the full picture.

Beginning this month, Finland took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. During the presidency, the Member States gets to drive the EU agenda and preside over Council meetings for six months. While it can serve as a perfect opportunity for setting priorities and executing policies, there are some countries who will instead choose to make it political.

I regret to see Finland taking this latter path in an attempt to withdraw future EU funds from Poland and Hungary citing the usual, so-called ‘rule of law’ nonsense.  As we’ve asserted a number of times, EU funds are not charitable donations. As our countries have opened our markets to the West, these funds serve a fundamental objective of the EU Treaties, namely cohesion.

But this also odd from Finland because, as it turns out, Finland is not exactly a champion in the rule of law, per definitionem.

They preach water, drink wine.

Let’s see how they measure up in the very same areas where they criticize Hungary. Here are some facts:

The pluralism of Finnish media is under grave threat. Finland has, of course, repeated the distortions about Hungary’ media not being free and overwhelmingly in the hands of pro-government owners.

That’s not well grounded in the facts, but it’s also a strange charge from Finland where media is mainly in the hands of four conglomerates. One of those, the Sanoma Group, reaches some 97 percent of Finns on a weekly basis and controls most of the country’s largest newspapers and magazines. In practice, the predominantly left-liberal firm single-handedly controls the media market.

According to an EU-supported study conducted by the European University Institute two years ago, the high concentration on the media market, the degree of editorial freedom and the non-transparent ownership landscape all give cause for concern in Finland.

Finland doesn’t have the equivalent of a Constitutional Court. Yes, you read that right. It might be one of the main pillars of modern democracy, but there is no Constitutional Court in Finland that would exercise legal control over the legislator.

Although there is a Constitutional Affairs committee in the Finnish Parliament that’s supposed to fill the gap, it comprises MPs who review legislation from a mere political perspective rather than a professional aspect.

Independent judiciary in Finland is non-existent. In Finland, judges are appointed by the directly-elected President of Finland upon the recommendation of the justice minister, whose pick depends on the conclusions of a seemingly independent body responsible for judicial nominations. When it comes to Supreme Court judges, however, the President remains the sole decision-maker.

As Montesquieu will tell you, such a system – where the executive branch has direct control over the judiciary - doesn’t meet the “separation of powers” criteria.

What’s more, according to this year’s EU Justice Scoreboard, Finland benchmarked below Hungary in most categories, especially in those that examined the quality of justice. Oh, by the way, Finland is also one of those countries that sport a fully-fledged Supreme Administrative Court, something that sparked heavy anti-Hungary criticism in Brussels.

But if it’s the Finns that are doing it, then it’s fine. Here again a case of the EU’s double standards.

Photo: Variety