Finnish Government’s hands tied due to rigid legislation

The country’s inflexible legislation poses unexpected obstacles for the Finnish government to deal with the coronavirus outbreak as swiftly as perhaps desired.

Already when the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Finland were shy of 400, the government took firm measures to close all schools, universities, gyms, libraries and other public buildings. It seemed as though the Finnish government was going to tackle the outbreak with the utmost urgency. Today, patient numbers are rising exponentially yet, stricter measures are hardly being introduced.

Confirmed cases doubled and surpassed 800 by Wednesday (25.3.2020) morning, and thus the government ordered restrictions in the transport between Helsinki’s metropolitan area (Uusimaa) and the rest of the country. All but essential travel will be prohibited between the borders for a period of three weeks. “This is certainly a sturdy measure,” as described by the minister of internal affairs Maria Ohisalo. However, the restrictions are essential to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading further, especially since the outbreak is heavily concentrated and has spread faster within the greater Helsinki area.

During Wednesday evening’s press conference, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced; “Despite the government’s wishes, cafés and restaurants will remain open until further notice.” The Prime Minister, nevertheless, pleaded restaurant and bar-owners to close their doors voluntarily or minimize their activity only to a take-away level. The despair with the government’s inability to pass tighter restrictions was evident in the briefing. This begs the following question: how can this government’s powerlessness be explained given the severity of the circumstances?

The Finnish Government has actively accused the rigid legislation of preventing it enforcing drastic measures rapidly enough. On one hand, some members of parliament are particularly worried with this newly acquired power that disagrees with some of the  designated Human Rights, while healthcare experts would argue that these unprecedented circumstances demand even faster action. The government has declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency and thus, activated the Emergency Powers Act (Valmiuslaki), which allows for new legislation to be implemented more swiftly than in normal circumstances.

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Photos by Kosti Keistinen|Finnish Government

 

Nevertheless, according to the EPA, authorities are only entitled to absolutely necessary and proportionally reasonable jurisdiction for the accomplishment of the aim of the Act’s activation. In other words, there must be enough reasoning behind any jurisdiction proposals, in terms of achieving the desirable outcome, which led to the Emergency Powers Act’s employment in the first place. This translates, naturally, to hours of debates, as sections of the Act are only activated once at a time when they are deemed necessary.

Ultimately, even though the Emergency Powers Act’s purpose is to drastically speed up the legislation-making process (such as the adoption of new strict measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak); it still operates within a democratic work frame. But while these democratic processes may hold up the implementation of measures, the alternative would see a more authoritarian government with even less regulated power.

Today, Finnish confirmed cases have surpassed 1,300 and the Finnish government is vigorously negotiating the closure of all restaurants, cars and cafés and non-essential shops. Following weeks of deliberations, the order is expected to be announced this coming week.