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President Niinistö criticises fast-track constitutional reform process

President Niinistö ratified constitutional changes necessary to grant broader intelligence-gathering powers on Friday, although he criticised parliament too.

Perustuslakiäänestys eduskunnan täysistunnossa
A new intelligence law would allow Finnish authorities to intercept communications if national security is threatened. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Changes to the constitution were signed into law by President Sauli Niinistö on Friday, but he also criticised the way parliament had made the decision.

According to Niinistö the constitution demands that MPs vote separately on whether constitutional changes are urgent and whether they should be approved, but in this case legislators only voted once.

“Parliament’s will on this is undeniable, but a strict interpretation of the constitution calls into question parliament’s process,” Niinistö wrote in a statement attached to the legislation.

Speaker of Parliament Paula Risikko said that the legislature would take Niinistö's criticism seriously.

The new intelligence law would allow Finnish authorities to intercept communications if national security is threatened, which would have been in breach of the constitution. Changing the constitution normally requires the assent of two-thirds of MPs voting twice, either side of a parliamentary election.

Complaints to Chancellor of Justice

This week’s vote bypassed that requirement by declaring the changes 'urgent', allowing for immediate revisions to the constitution if five-sixths of MPs decide they are necessary.

However the constitution states that MPs should vote twice: once on whether the changes are urgent and again on whether to approve the changes.

Niinistö said this provision was overlooked by the Speaker of Parliament, whose motion before the vote stated that 'if the proposal to declare the bill urgent is approved, the bill itself will at the same time be approved'.

Other legal experts have also criticised the procedure, with three complaints already made to the Chancellor of Justice.

Parliament’s Secretary-General Maija-Leena Paavola, on the other hand, said that two votes are not necessary if there is unanimity on the matter and no counter-proposals are tabled.

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