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An amendment to the Constitution that allows citizens' initiatives to be submitted to Parliament entered into force on 1 March 2012. At least 50,000 Finnish citizens who are eligible to vote can submit an initiative to Parliament for the enactment of legislation. Signatures must be collected within a period of six months.
The purpose of the new procedure is to promote and support free civic activity and thus strengthen civil society, in which different parts of the population participate and have a say in developing society.
A citizens' initiative can propose the enactment or drafting of new legislation. It can also concern the amendment or repeal of existing legislation. An initiative in the form of a bill must contain the proposed legal text. An initiative must confine itself to a particular matter and must present justifications.
An initiative must be signed by the required number of people within a period of six months. Signatures can be collected on paper or online. When enough signatures have been collected, the initiative is sent to the Population Register Centre, which checks names and confirms the number of approved signatures.
After the Population Register Centre has checked names and confirmed that at least 50,000 approved signatures have been collected, a spokesperson for the initiative can submit it to Parliament for consideration. If an initiative is not submitted to Parliament within six months of the date on which the Population Register Centre has made its decision, it is allowed to lapse.
Parliament has an obligation to consider a citizens' initiative, but it is up to Parliament whether it wishes to approve an initiative, with or without changes. If an initiative is rejected by Parliament, a new initiative concerning the same matter can be set in motion.
The consideration of a citizens' initiative in Parliament begins with a preliminary debate in plenary session. At the end of the debate Parliament refers the matter to a committee. During the committee stage spokespersons for the initiative must be given an opportunity to state their case. A committee may also hear a representative of the relevant ministry and other experts.
The committee may continue discussion of the matter and prepare its report for the plenary session. It can also decide not to support an initiative and to end discussion of the matter. This does not mean that the matter is dropped or that an initiative is rejected. It simply means that an initiative must wait for further measures such as a government proposal. The committee may return to the matter later on. A citizens' initiative that has not been considered by the end of the electoral term is allowed to lapse.