The Friends of Malmi Airport Association (FoMA) has appealed to the administrative court against Helsinki City Council’s decision to turn down the Malmi referendum initiative. The association sees the reasons for the decision as being in conflict with the Constitution and the referendum-related sections of municipal law.
In addition, the association has found that in the rapporteur’s reasoning, approved by the Council, things are not entirely based on the law. Decisions by public authorities must be based solely on the law.
The draft decision of the City Board, approved by the Council without changes, contains vague and untrue allegations on several issues related to the airport, e.g. about flight operations and hindrance of development. In addition, the draft decision seeks to reject the initiative on the grounds of the cost of holding the referendum, which cannot be a valid argument in democratic decision-making.
Procedural errors have been made in the handling of the principle of consultation and the obligation to state reasons. The case has therefore been presented and closed on the wrong grounds.
Do citizens’ initiatives play a role in democratic decision-making?
In recent times, civic and municipal initiatives have proved futile in all respects, with elected decision-making bodies overturning the initiatives, citing the mechanisms of representative democracy. Two of the largest municipal initiatives presented to the City of Helsinki have been about Helsinki-Malmi Airport, but they have been turned down by the Council by group decisions.
Timo Hyvönen, Chairman of the Friends of Malmi Airport Association, proposes a re-evaluation of citizens’ initiatives and municipal initiatives:
“There is reason to question both the citizens’ initiative and municipal initiative mechanisms and to clarify their binding nature. The required number of supporters of the initiatives is defined by law to be so high that the initiatives cannot be made without serious consideration and a significant workload of the citizens. Elected representatives must have a strong obligation to respect such initiatives.”
The citizens’ initiative Lex Malmi was one of the fastest-growing initiatives, but it was not brought into the Grand Chamber of Parliament and was repealed on curious grounds. The pending citizens’ initiative on the right to organize fireworks threatens to go unanswered in Parliament due to lack of time.
”If an initiative is rejected because the matter has already been decided representatively, civic engagement as such has no role. Legislation needs to be put on the table and tuned to modern times so that the relevance and credibility of initiatives are upheld in the eyes of the citizens. For example, a qualified majority to turn down initiatives and the obligation to hold referendums based on initiatives may be required”, demands Hyvönen.
The Administrative Court can return this largest municipal initiative in Finland to Helsinki City Council for new processing. The decision of the City Council to reject it is not final.