Threat of Helsinki proposing rejection of Finland’s largest municipal initiative looming – City Council has great responsibility for the future of direct civic democracy

Nov 22, 2021

Many of the decisions presented by officials as arguments do not have legal force. A public celebration for local democracy will be held at the Senate Square on 22 November and 8 December 2021.

In August, a municipal initiative to hold a municipal referendum on the future of Helsinki-Malmi Airport was delivered to the City of Helsinki. A yes/no question is proposed for the referendum: “Should Helsinki-Malmi Airport be kept in aviation use?”

The initiators of the initiative are Chief Mayor (ret.) Raimo Ilaskivi, Lex Malmi activist Frank Töölö and Timo Hyvönen, chairman of the Friends of Malmi Airport Association.

“The subject of the referendum is precisely the kind of thing for which this mechanism of civic participation was established: a clearly defined entity significant to the citizens and not dealt with individually in general decision-making”, says Frank Töölö, who also prepared the Lex Malmi law initiative. Parliament’s Lex Malmi statement still binds the government.

Chief Mayor Raimo Ilaskivi is amazed at the proposed decision.

“Despite numerous initiatives, the matter has not been asked directly of the residents of Helsinki in the past, so the activists have collected from them well over the required 4% support for the municipal initiative. The referendum must be voted upon without delay, as the law states.”

The draft decision drawn up by the city officials proposes that the initiative be rejected. In their draft, the officials report on several decisions related to Malmi Airport, but fail to mention that many of them have no legal force. It is claimed that there are substitutive solutions to the aviation operations, even though the total number of flights allowed by the environmental permits of these substitutive airfields summed together would not make Malmi’s traffic volumes possible – even if these airports didn’t have any operations to begin with. The difficulty of organizing the referendum is also lamented. The arguments are unsustainable.   

Timo Hyvönen, Chairman of the Friends of Malmi Airport Association, considers the process to be significant for the future of local democracy as a whole.

“A negative decision would be a major blow to direct civic democracy and also to the mechanism of municipal initiatives. If there will be no referendum on Finland’s largest municipal initiative and a well-known topic, then what would ever warrant a referendum?”

Mr. Hyvönen recalls the parties’ official position on civic democracy:

“The political parties are in a united front in favor of direct civic democracy. If this initiative is rejected by the Helsinki City Council, the entire Finnish referendum model should be questioned. The initiative of tens of thousands of citizens must be taken seriously, even if something else has already been agreed upon by the parties’ establishment.

A public celebration for local democracy will be held on 22 November 2021 and 8 December 2021 at the Senate Square from 3 pm to 4 pm as a reminder of the importance of genuinely listening to the people. The Helsinki City Board and City Council are deciding on the future of Finnish civic democracy. The meeting of the Council can be followed at Helsinki City Hall on December 8, 2021 from 4 pm.

Quotes on direct civic democracy (in Finnish): database of political programs