Hate speech against municipal decision-makers and fake news in the member states were the main topics discussed by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe at its plenary session in Strasbourg on 25-28 October. The Finnish delegation strongly condemns hate speech and incitement to it both nationally and internationally.
- This is a global problem for which no straightforward answer can be found at local level. That is why we have to look in the mirror and start working from the grassroots level. Municipal decision-makers must set an example to local residents. The respect for human rights and dignity are central to promoting constructive debate, freedom of expression and the continuity of local democracy in the future, chairman of the Lahti City Council and substitute member of the Congress Juha Rostedt reflected.
Hate speech has been provoking debate in Finland for a long time, but the issue became very topical during the municipal elections in summer 2021.
-We cannot be lulled into the belief that all is well in our cities and municipalities. Eliminating hate speech is a human rights issue and a prerequisite for promoting democracy, to which the Congress also actively seeks to contribute, Rostedt says.
Finland still has lessons to learn in developing local governance
Hate speech is more broadly connected to the overall functioning of local democracy. Finland and the other member states receive development recommendations from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.
- The Congress’s key activities are to observe elections and review municipal decision-making systems and local democracy. The country reports produced by the Congress give an indication of the state of democracy in each country. In addition, the Congress makes concrete recommendations to each of the 47 Council of Europe member states for the development of local governance systems. The member states must then implement the recommendations, vice-chairman of the Muurame Municipal Council and member of the Congress Jani Kokko explains.
The Finnish municipal system is not a textbook example by international comparison.
- There is room for improvement, says Saara Ilvessalo, deputy chairman of the Turku City Council and member of the Congress, and mentions the accessibility of the municipal election system, immigration issues and the low turnout in municipal elections as examples.
- Many aspects of local democracy are working very well in Finland, but we also have lessons to learn from other member states. For example, Estonia is ahead of us in digital participation. France has well-developed participatory budgeting and Switzerland is also steps ahead of us in developing direct democracy, Ilvessalo points out.
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe makes the voice of municipalities and regions heard in the international debate.
The Council of Europe is Europe's leading human rights organisation. Its mission is to safeguard and promote human rights, the rule of law and pluralist democracy. The main objective of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is to strengthen the political, administrative and financial autonomy of European local and regional authorities. Democratic local government promotes political stability on the continent and supports the human rights of minorities.
Finland has been a member of the Council of Europe and has been represented in the Congress since 1989. The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA) has served as the secretariat of the Finnish delegation throughout its membership.