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In Finland, "Open Ministry" Brings Legislation From the Crowd

BY Antonella Napolitano | Friday, September 28 2012

An unusual collaboration between the Finnish Parliament and a group of tech entrepreneurs is getting citizens' proposals straight to a parliamentary vote.

The initiative begins Oct. 1 thanks to the Citizens' Initiative Act, a modification of the Finnish constitution that came into force last March. The Act states that every legislative proposal gathering 50,000 signatures from the country of 5.3 million within six months will go to Parliament for a vote.

In response to the law, a handful of tech entrepreneurs created Open Ministry, an open-source platform for citizens to discuss proposals and collect the necessary signatures online. Although it was created last spring, Open Ministry could not finalize any proposal for several months because the Finnish government had not implemented the online procedures necessary to verify citizens' identities.

Parliament will be able to make some change to the bills, Joonas Pekkanen, Open Ministry's co-founder, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

“To clarify, there are two types of proposals," he is quoted as saying. "There's one type that is asking for the government to take actions towards a goal, to change existing legislation somehow. Then there's a new legal bill that is formulated in a crowdsourced manner. In that case, it's harder for the parliament to change it because it's drafted into legal language already.”

A few proposals are already listed on Open Ministry: “a ban on fur farming, a requirement for all public software procurement to take into account open data and APIs, a ban on energy drinks for under-16s, and a referendum on Finland’s restrictive alcohol laws (the government has a monopoly and prices are sky-high),” reports GigaOm.

Finland is an extraordinarily wired country. It was the first country to make fast Internet access a legal right, and boasts an Internet penetration rate of 89.3 percent, according to data released by the International Telecommunications Union in June 2012.

Given this, could the Finnish approach be replicable elsewhere?

Earlier this week, the French web agency La Netscouade launched WeSign.it a website to create petitions and collect signatures. The project is not focused on a national level but on a European one. The target is the European Citizens' Initiative (or ECI), a form of petition that allows citizens to propose legislation to the European Commission.

The task is not an easy one, as it is not easy to meet the requirements. As I previously reported:

It requires the collection of one million signatures (0.2% of the EU population) from at least 7 EU countries in one year: the petition [has] to be initiated by a committee of at least 7 EU citizens resident in different countries. While organizations cannot start an ECI, they can join it and campaign for it. The European Commission will have three months to [examine] the initiative and [meet] with the organizers.

WeSign.it just launched, Charles Letaillieur, WeSign's project manager, told me by email. It's not yet compliant with ECI.

“We hope it could be soon an easy to use tool for all European citizens who want to make petition," he said.

The website provides petitions in 6 European languages (French, English, German, Polish, Italian and Spanish).

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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