Reaching Out to the People? Parliament and Citizen Participation in Finland

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Pinni B building, auditorium 1097, address: Kanslerinrinne 1.


Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc. Hyeon Su Seo

Reaching Out to the People? Parliament and Citizen Participation in Finland

The field of science of the dissertation is Political Science.

The opponent is professor Maija Setälä (University of Turku). Professor Tapio Raunio acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Parliament and Citizen Participation in Finnish Democracy

This dissertation studies a frontier topic in legislative studies – the relationship between parliaments and citizens in transition. As a central institution of modern representative democracy, parliaments are still playing the crucial roles in linking the government and people. At the same time, they are standing under the increasing pressures to be more open and democratic while actively engaging with the public through various and new communication channels.

This dissertation provides a series of empirical studies on the multi-dimensional linkages between contemporary legislatures and their electorates in the context of Finnish democracy. Finland offers a particularly important case. While exercising a strong model of party-based representative democracy, Finland is currently standing on the frontline of political and social innovations, from the total constitutional reform in 2000, governmental programmes for citizen participation (1998-2007) and democracy policies, to recent enactment of citizens’ initiatives.

Establishing new analytical frameworks and drawing on multiple types of data analysis including a wide range of parliamentary documents and statistical data, and interviews with MPs, parliamentary staff and civil society representatives, the thesis examines three main empirical questions: (1) How open and accessible is the Eduskunta to the public? (2) How do the Eduskunta committees communicate with civil society in the legislative process? (3) What are the political impacts of newly introduced direct democratic mechanism, citizens’ initiatives in Finland?

The empirical studies find that although the Eduskunta has taken a variety of measures to enhance public engagement with parliamentary affairs during recent years, there are still strong needs for more reforms and active approaches to implement genuinely open and inclusive relationship with the public. Particularly, the Eduskunta has maintained a most closed committee system for legislative deliberation process, which is true when comparing it with not only Westminster style of ‘debating’ parliaments but also with other Nordic ‘working’ parliaments. Despite a wide scope of expert consultation and consensus-seeking, free and confidential negotiations among MPs and parliamentary party groups behind closed doors, very limited publicity of committee deliberation and the lack of institutional channels for co-consultation with the public (e.g. e-Parliament platforms) and more extensive outreach programmes in the Eduskunta restrict the possibility for ordinary citizens to be involved in legislative decision-making process.

In this regard, the citizens’ initiative is assessed as a most significant democratic innovation in recent years which allows the public to directly participate in legislative agenda-setting. The mechanism was introduced through a ‘top-down’ project of Finnish government. It has basic limitations as ‘agenda initiative’ without linking to popular vote. Nevertheless, this participatory institution has been rapidly consolidated as an alternative channel of legislative agenda-setting. New political dynamics are developed by enhancing direct inputs from civil society. Demonstrating the potential of democratic innovations ‘coupled’ to formal decision-making institution, the Finnish experiment may provide a significant example to cultivate dynamic and compatible relationship between established representative democracy and new forms of post-representative democracy.

Presenting the unique features of Finnish political system in broader contexts of Nordic and European democracies, this dissertation contributes to expanding our understanding of the evolving nature of parliamentary representation, as well as of contemporary democratic politics in Finland.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2264, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1765, Tampere University Press 2017.

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