4. Drivers of institutional trust in Finland: Values

“Open government” is defined as a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth (OECD, 2017[1]). Cross-national evidence from European countries shows that those countries that invest in government openness benefit from a higher level of citizen trust in the public system (Schmidthuber, Ingrams and Hilgers, 2020[2]). Indeed, open government practices, transparency and citizen engagement are necessary principles for building trust (Bouckaert, 2012[3]). However, the causality between trust and openness is complex, and although openness principles are necessary, they may not be sufficient with regards to trust. For instance, increased transparency will not necessarily lead to increased trust if it exposes controversial information or corruption cases (OECD, 2017[4]). To engage, citizens need information and data, as well as mechanisms to voice their views and submit their contributions. While open government strategies can promote trust, citizens also need to trust the institutions that are inviting them to participate and to feel trusted by the government, believing that the invitation to participate is genuine.

As a dimension of trust, openness refers to and is measured, first, on governments’ mandate to inform, consult and listen to citizens, by letting them know and understand what the government does; that is, promoting government transparency by granting access to public sector information, thus also strengthening accountability. Second, openness depends on the government’s capacity to engage citizens and other stakeholders, including their perspectives and insights and promoting co-operation in policy design and implementation. The OECD Trust Survey carried out in Finland includes two specific questions reporting on issues of transparency and opportunities for citizens’ inclusion and participation (see Table 1.2).

Open government has been a priority for the Finnish government for many years and the country has been one of the most active contributors to the OECD’s work in this area. Further, according to the National Action Plan on Open Government for 2019-2023, openness is one of the eight fundamental shared values of the central government’s value basis.

Overall, Finland has comparatively high levels of openness. According to the OECD Trust Survey, 45.9% of Finns consider that it would be easy for them to find specific public information if needed, and 33.2% perceive themselves and others as being likely to have the opportunity to voice their concerns if a decision affecting their community is to be taken by the local or regional government (Figure 4.1).

Finland is among the nine OECD countries where users can publish their datasets on the central government’s open data portal, being able to contribute to open data and combine data that could generate other types of innovation or information resources (OECD, 2020[5]). However, according to the 2019 OURdata Index, in terms of open, reusable data, Finland scores slightly below the OECD average (0.60), and the score decreased between 2017 (0.67) and 2019 (0.47), especially due to reduced stakeholder engagement on open data, but also in terms of data availability (OECD, 2019[6]). Finland’s drop in the index demonstrates the importance of formalising and sustaining regular stakeholder engagement on open data (OECD, 2020[5]).

The level of perceived transparency in political decision making is relatively high in Finland: 68% of Finnish respondents think that a great deal or some political decisions are transparent, the second-highest value among eight surveyed European countries (European Social Survey, 2019). These results are also supported by data collected through the 2020 OECD Survey on Lobbying, which shows that Finland makes public and accessible on line not only discussions within the plenary sessions in parliament, but also impact assessment reports that inform policy making and all amendments to regulations, which provides more opportunities to make government accountable (OECD, forthcoming).

There is a relationship between openness and the traditional concept of political efficacy. Political efficacy refers to citizens’ beliefs that they can influence political processes and, consequently, the political system. Indeed, according to the findings of a recent study that uses data from the European Social Survey and the World Justice Project, the effect of openness on public trust is partially mediated by people’s perception that they can participate and influence political systems (Schmidthuber, Ingrams and Hilgers, 2020[2]).

While interpersonal and institutional trust and levels of satisfaction with democracy are high in Finland (see Chapter 1), indicators of political efficacy, hence perceptions on responsiveness of the system, are low compared with countries with similar levels of trust. As per the data analysed (see also Chapter 2) and interviews with Finnish stakeholders carried out for this study, this puzzle may be linked to the fact that due to the speed of changes in society and expectations, many people may not feel represented or heard. The political system may not be able to formally channel and address the emergency of new divisions, groups and minorities. For example, as per the appearance of new actors in the political scene, traditional political parties may not be including the concerns and interests of these new groups in their platforms and agendas. This is parallel to other more structural elements, such as the complexity of the multi-level political system and language limitations found by some people when addressing the public administration.

The concept of political efficacy includes two dimensions: internal and external political efficacy. Internal political efficacy refers to an individual’s self-perception of their capability or competence to understand and participate in political processes. According to the survey carried out for this study, 47% of the Finnish population reported being interested in politics (answering 7-10 on a 1-10 scale) and only 29% were confident in their own ability to participate in politics. This is consistent with data from the European Social Survey, which reported that in 2018 a majority of Finns tended to have relatively low confidence in their own ability to participate in politics, similar to the level in France, Italy and the Netherlands, but significantly lower than in Germany and Norway, in particular (see Figure 1.3).

Recent studies on internal efficacy have found that individual responses about one’s own abilities are shaped by three main components: 1) the mastery experiences (that is, skill building); 2) vicarious experiences/role models; 3) social encouragement and social networks (Beaumont, 2010[7]). Additionally, another element that plays a key role in the development of internal efficacy is mass media and information efficacy (Moeller et al., 2014[8]).

In turn, external political efficacy refers to people’s feeling that they have a say in what government does. According to the survey carried out for this study, 17% of Finns believe that the political system allows them to have a say in what the government does,1 a figure which is even lower than results reported in the European Social Survey in 2018 (Figure 1.4). In addition, when considering the design of social policies and formulation of public benefits, 68% of Finns feel that the government does not take their views into account, and respondents aged 55-70 feel the most ignored in this policy debate (76.74%) (OECD, 2019[9]).

Empirical evidence shows that citizens’ self-efficacy and political involvement predict their level of trust in government (Parent, Vandebeek and Gemino, 2005[10]), and that internal efficacy was found to predict trust in parliament and satisfaction with democracy (Bäck and Kestilä, 2009[11]). Further, efficacy has been used broadly for explaining citizen participation (Abramson and Aldrich, 1982[12]; Verba and Nie, 1972[13]; Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993[14]; Verba, Schlozman and Brady, 1995[15]; Blais, n.d.[16]). The more people feel capable of understanding politics and having their voice heard, the more likely they are to pursue democratic endeavours (Gil de Zúñiga, Diehl and Ardévol-Abreu, 2017[17]).

Despite low levels of efficacy, figures on political participation show that Finnish citizens are actually quite active in political life compared to other EU countries (Figure 4.2). For instance, more than in most other EU countries with available data, Finns have contacted politicians or government officials, worked in an organisation or association, worn a campaign badge, signed a petition, posted or shared political views on line, or boycotted products. Only when it comes to participating in lawful public demonstration are Finns less active, on average, than people in other European countries. In addition, low percentages also relate to what are usually called traditional ways of participation. As stated in Chapter 1, voter turnout has decreased over the past decades in Finland (see Figure 1.2), and according to the survey conducted for this study, only 7% of the Finnish population reported having attended a meeting of a trade union, political party or political action group. In fact, political parties are the institutions with the lowest levels of trust in Finland (Figure 2.6), and this outcome may be fuelled by the emergence of new division lines that parties seem to not represent, and a generation gap where the youth is active, but young people are only interested in some of the existent parties, such as the right-wing populism (PS) or the greens (VIHR) (Veikko Isotalo et al., 2020[18]).

The government of Finland proactively encourages participation through different channels (Box 4.1). Further, Finnish people have an active political life through their participation in civil society organisations (Box 4.2). In fact, historically, civil society has played a key role in Finland, accompanying not only the development of the national identity, but also supporting the establishment of its broadly known welfare state (see Box 1.1). Indeed, a report from the European Commission stated that around 75-80% of Finns are members of associations and voluntary organisations at some point in their lifetime and underscored that the main factor that motivates individuals to engage is the desire to help others (EC-GHK, 2010[19]). This evidence aligns with the previously reported high levels of interpersonal trust and supports the idea of civil society as a main builder of social capital and trust (see Chapter 1). In addition to their relevant contribution to building and strengthening social capital, civil society organisations have a key role in furthering representative democracies, may channel political participation by issues/themes and promote joining forces during crisis, within a context of declining membership in traditional representative institutions (such as political parties or trade unions). Civil society complements party politics and mediates between individual citizens and public decision making (Sepo, 2013[20]).

In addition, Finland promotes participation as a working method among its own agencies, horizontally and vertically, across levels of government. For instance, in 2020, the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Finnish Municipalities carried out a regional tour of open government and its leadership in eight cities where dialogues took places with leadership and officials from municipal governments. The dialogues promoted a joint understanding on openness and trust, and set a discussion on local public officials’ challenges and concerns in their daily activities (such as mistreatment and inappropriate feedback, especially via social media) and the public administration’s relationship with citizens.

Despite relatively high levels of satisfaction with democracy and openness of government in Finland on average, there are some significant differences in the population groups which feel empowered to participate, or perceive the government open and transparent. As such, to further improve openness and prevent the Finnish paradox from becoming a risk for future generations or minorities, Finland needs to better understand who is or feels left behind, and what the expectations and perceptions of different groups of society are with respect to transparency and participation. For example, the OECD Trust Survey finds that the ability to voice concerns and the easiness to access information about government actions increase significantly for higher-levels of income. In addition, while the ability of voicing concerns does not change according to age, older people find significantly more difficult to access information than younger people(Figures 4.3 and 4.4).

A recent study commissioned and published by the Finnish Ministry of Finance found that there are differences between social classes when it comes to political participation (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[22]). Specifically, those with low level of education think that they cannot trust politicians and political institutions, do not understand political processes, or believe that they cannot influence decision making. These differences were the most pronounced in institutional political participation and least pronounced in non-institutional participation. Similar findings were presented in The State of Inequality in Finland: people of higher income levels also have higher voter turnout, and a weaker financial situation of voters is linked to greater support to populist parties (Wass and Kauppinen, 2020[23]) . Levels of political trust were found to be a strong mediator of social class differences in voting, and social trust only slightly explained differences in voting (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[22]).

In addition to specific findings on participation, the report also found that Finnish citizens have very different conceptions of the ideal democratic process. Some citizens favour a greater role for citizens and more participatory or direct forms of democracy. Others, however, are happy with the existing representative structures or would even prefer to see more power in the hands of experts. This is in line with the high trust in the public administration (see Chapter 2).2 In this sense, addressing the problems facing many advanced representative democracies regarding political participation will require a mix of solutions, including increasing citizens’ involvement in policy making as well as adapting the representativeness of political parties and political institutions (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[22]).

In this regard, it is key to consider the specific context, as well as historic, cultural and political socialisation of political systems, in order to ensure the best policy options and alternatives to address participation gaps. For instance, new participation opportunities, such as crowdsourcing policy recommendations or efforts to integrate citizens into government processes, need to be perceived as real ways to influence policy makers and to fulfil expectations in order to achieve real change and enhance citizens’ trust (Wang and Van Wart, 2007[24]; Ingrams and Schachter, 2019[25]; Schmidthuber, Ingrams and Hilgers, 2020[2]). A recent study in Finland shows that both political knowledge and political trust had the expected relationships with the propensity to support citizens’ initiatives, meaning that more knowledgeable and/or distrusting citizens were more likely to take advantage of the possibility to support citizens’ initiatives. This also means that there is a risk that the dissatisfaction of those who do not possess such civic skills go unnoticed. These citizens are less likely to make use of the possibilities offered by citizens’ initiatives (Christensen, 2018[26]). Further, engagement opportunities which are based on civic vigilance have their roots in the liberal model of a mistrust-based democracy, hence they should be adapted to systems such as the Finnish one, founded on strong institutional and interpersonal trust (Lehtonen and De Carlo, 2019[27]). In this respect, and in order to reach out the ones left behind, national and local dialogues were found to be a nodal element during crisis periods. Beyond the usual communication and participation mechanisms, different countries’ experiences highlight the importance of people-centred approaches for building institutional trust, where citizens are given the opportunity to talk about their feelings regarding uncertainties and concerns, and expectations on policy choices for the future, such as the Lockdown Dialogues in Finland (Box 4.3).

Taking into consideration that voicing concerns was found as one of the main determinants of trust at the local level (see Figure 2.25 in Chapter 2), the experience of the Lockdown Dialogues could be used to promote further deliberation efforts in Finland beyond the crisis period. Similarly, other countries have introduced representative deliberative processes in participation strategies as an alternative way to engage the broader public in influencing political processes (OECD, 2020[28]). These processes refer to a randomly selected group of people who are broadly representative of a community spending significant time learning and collaborating through facilitated deliberation to form collective recommendations for policy makers. By the use of random selection and stratified sampling, these processes may bring typically excluded categories like youth, the disadvantaged, women or other minorities into public policy and decision making (OECD, 2020[28]).

Regardless of whether Finland decides to introduce new forms of participation, as mentioned above, it is also important that the government can provide regular feedback to the public on the inputs provided by civil society at different stages of the consultations as a way to strengthen the legitimacy of engagement and avoid disillusion. In fact, according to the OECD Regulatory Indicators Survey, only 26% of countries require policy makers to actually evaluate the inputs received and publicly justify if and why the inputs are being dismissed (OECD, 2018[29]).

Finally, ensuring democratic continuity will also require better understanding new ways of participation and promoting engagement as a complement to instead of a replacement of traditional ones (see Figure 4.2). Democratic governance requires the use of different mechanisms for different purposes to take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses (OECD, 2020[28]). Some processes that may be key to remove structural barriers to participation focus on democratic challenges as a demand-side problem, which may lead to marketing driven responses in terms of individualisation and incentivisation and ignore the importance of building in all members of the polity an identity as a citizen (Parvin, 2018[30]; Faucher, 2015[31]). Social changes have affected the way of understanding politics and organisations, and traditional mechanisms and institutions have been adapting slowly, but there is not yet an alternative replacement of them (Panebianco, 1988[32]; Manin, 1997[33]; Scarrow, 2002[34]). In fact, according to a report by the Finnish National Election Studies, 56% of Finns consider that parties are more important than candidates (Veikko Isotalo et al., 2020[18]). In contemporary, complex societies, political parties and trade unions have been a solution to co-ordinate the diverse and multiple preferences and to ensure the representation of their interests in policy making. Further, strong parties are correlated with economic growth and development (Bizarro et al., 2018[35]), they strengthen accountability by developing long-term public policies, informed by broad interests (McCall Rosenbluth and Shapiro, 2018[36]) and are necessary intermediaries to process the large amount of data and information produced by governments.

Finland has broad and extensive regulations in place that strengthen openness as a guiding value, promoting transparency, accountability, and engaging people and key stakeholders at different levels of government and the country’s public life. Yet, there is still room for improvement. In order to ensure democracy continuity, Finland could adopt different actions to enhance citizens’ engagement in decision making, strengthen political efficacy, simplify procedures and transparency, and support change towards a culture of accountability of results in public administrations.

In order to put the “participation paradox” – high level of trust but low political efficacy - on hold, Finland needs to proactively reach out to everyone and invite them to a broad social dialogue, building on the idea of trust as a two-way street: citizens should trust government, but government should also trust its citizens. To this end, it is key to improve people’s perceptions of their political capacities, their perceptions of the system’s responsiveness, as well as shorten participatory gaps by giving the less advantaged a voice.

To strengthen internal political efficacy, Finland could consider developing clear guidelines to communicate efficiently through social media, avoiding confusion and misunderstandings; and include these guidelines in the government’s communication strategy. In addition, regarding future generations, the government could consider developing projects or programmes in schools, including some form of political or civic activities (Beaumont et al., 2006[37]), such as including a service learning curriculum and community service activities that provide youth with readily accessible opportunities for contributing to their communities. Indeed, as per understood by the Finnish National Child Strategy, including children and young people in societal debates and decision making not only facilitates inclusion into structures, it also strengthens present and future citizenship (Stenvall, 2020[38]). A study on similar programmes highlights the value of preparing the youth in building skills through experiences that make them face the different challenges and results of their actions (Kahne and Westheimer, 2006[39]).

As people’s feelings about having a say and influencing what government does are found to be affected by their personal characteristics and socio-economic background (OECD, 2017[40]) (the government of Finland could develop initiatives to proactively reach out to those left behind (see Chapter 2) and engage them by, for example, exploring further deliberative and representative deliberative processes. It may consider continuing national dialogues as a regular practice, as well as promoting other targeted experiences. For instance, the EU has developed some initiatives to support and fund groups’ and organisations’ participation if they face discrimination or support the common good, such as the AGE Platform Europe, which advocates for older citizens’ interests, and the European Anti-Poverty Network (Davidson, 2017[41]). This was also the objective behind the European Citizens Initiative, which assists citizens to gather support and propose legislation to be considered by the European Commission.

Additionally, considering the decreasing voter turnout and drops in membership, rebuilding trust in political parties could play a key role in reconnecting young people to politics and in representing and promoting the interests of those with a low income or otherwise disadvantaged (Wass and Kauppinen, 2020[23]). Some parties actually better appeal and target the youth (see Section 4.2). Participation in parties and collective organisations makes citizens feel they have a stake in collective endeavours, and builds mutual trust and a sense of belonging (Parvin, 2018[30]). To strengthen interest in representative institutions, the government of Finland may consider a more proactive approach to develop initiatives on transparency and good governance, such as promoting the accountability of leaders and democratic candidate selection procedures, promoting further dialogue between public officials and politicians to better inform the last ones, and strengthening their capacities, as well as participative decision-making processes within organisations.

Public integrity refers to the consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritising the public interest over private interests in the public sector (OECD, 2017[42]). Corruption and mismanagement in the public sector are usually cited among the most important sources of mistrust; as such, policy action to strengthen integrity will have an important influence on trust (Nolan-Flecha, 2017[43]). In experimental settings, public integrity has been identified as the most crucial determinant of trust in government (Murtin et al., 2018[44]).

The relationship between corruption and trust in government has received quite a bit of attention in the academic research, both for the relationship between interpersonal trust and corruption (Uslaner, 2013[45]; Rothstein and Uslaner, 2005[46]; You, 2017[47]; Richey, 2010[48]; Rothstein, 2011[49]; Rothstein and Eek, 2009[50]) and institutional trust and corruption (Zhang and Kim, 2018[51]; Obydenkova and Arpino, 2018[52]; Radin, 2013[53]; Hakhverdian and Mayne, 2012[54]).

With respect to institutional trust, the relationship is clear, even though causality is complex. Corruption is a clear example of abusing the trust that has been put into a public duty and visible corruption reduces trust in public institutions. In turn, the lower trust undermines government efforts to mobilise society to help fight corruption and leads the public to routinely dismiss government promises to fight corruption (Morris and Klesner, 2010[55]).

Finally, an interesting debate relates to whether effective official anti-corruption efforts in terms of detection could have, at least in the short term, a negative impact on institutional trust for the reason just explained. Indeed, short-term institutional trust is vulnerable to topical occurrences such as scandals (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[22]). Uncovering corruption cases exposes a negative face of government and could thus lead to a drop of institutional trust, despite the fact that the government has actually done a good job. In Finland and the other Nordic countries, corruption scandals are uncommon and often involve relatively small infractions, which nevertheless are considered and treated very seriously.

More generally, in Europe, regardless of the level of corruption in their country, citizens value the honesty and impartiality of their civil servants and institutional trust depends on the perception of impartiality and honesty of officials (Grönlund and Setälä, 2012[56]). A study of 173 European regions found that the absence of corruption – while citizens expect public officials to act ethically – was the strongest institutional determinant on citizens’ trust in the public administration (Van de Walle and Migchelbrink, 2020[57]).

Finland is perceived to be amongst the least corrupt countries in the world. Government is perceived to take decisions in the interest of its citizens (Figure 4.5). Indeed, ignorant and bad treatment of citizens may occur in some interactions between citizens and public officials (for more detailed figures on cases, see Section 3.3 of the OECD Civic Space Scan of Finland, forthcoming), but they are generally exceptional and usually also perceived as such by the citizens (Salminen and Ikola Norrbacka, 2010[58]). According to the OECD Trust Survey, only 28% of Finns consider that if a parliamentarian were offered a bribe to influence the awarding of a public procurement contract, he/she would likely accept it. Similarly, according to the Civil Servants Survey in 2015, bribery apparently does not occur in administrative practice. In addition, despite some scandals and corruption cases, these do not seem to have had an effect on trust. In fact, anecdotal evidence reported during interviews conducted by the OECD suggests that institutional trust in the police even increased after a widely reported scandal in the police in 2008, possibly because of the immediate and fair handling of the case, which reinforced trust and showed citizens that cases within the police force are not handled differently.

In particular, it is worth highlighting the role of the Finnish public civil service. A merit-based civil service is a fundamental element of any public sector integrity system (Dahlström, Lapuente and Teorell, 2012[59]; OECD, 2017[60]; Meyer-Sahling, Mikkelsen and Schuster, 2018[61]). A culture of integrity cannot be achieved without a skilled and motivated civil service, committed to the public’s interests, and delivering value for money for citizens.

The interviews conducted for this study emphasised the role the professional Finnish civil service plays in providing checks against potential misconduct by their peers, political appointees and elected officials. In addition, the high level of professionalism and integrity within the Finnish public administration allows for an approach that privileges trust in civil servants over strict compliance-oriented control. This, in turn, has benefits in terms of lowering the costs of control and improving the working climate and thus the intrinsic motivation for honesty (OECD, 2018[62]). It also strengthens leadership capability in the public service (Gerson, 2020[63]).

Indeed, the Finnish public service is highly influenced by this integrity approach, and has chosen a values-based strategy in promoting high standards of ethics in the state administration. According to Civil Servants and Citizens’ Surveys commissioned by the Ministry of Finance in 2015 and 2016, respectively, the majority of public officials and citizens perceive that the level of civil service ethics has improved or remained unchanged (Moilanen, 2018[64]). The survey findings support time series of trust in government in Finland, and are aligned with evidence that stresses the relevance of integrity as a key driver of trust in government and the civil service (see Chapter 2).

Nonetheless, while integrity is very high, Finland should continue investing in maintaining this asset and risks should be identified early and managed effectively. For instance, while findings from the Finnish Civil Servants Survey highlighted that public officials consider that the core values were realised well in practice, the value of “openness” scored comparatively low (3.53 compared to a total average of 3.81, where 1 means that the value was realised very poorly and 5 that it was realised very well). Citizens surveyed on their views regarding civil service ethics expressed a similar concern and underscored the need to improve efforts concerning openness. This reinforces the recommendations made above in Section 4.1.

In addition, the results from the Civil Servants Survey on unethical behaviour also found that 45% of respondents were not aware of a channel for disclosing wrongdoings, and 12% thought that no such channel exists (Moilanen, 2017[65]). In this sense, although Finnish regulations do in fact provide for different ways and mechanisms to report wrongdoings, these do not seem to be well known – perhaps because they do not need to be used very often in practice. In any case, the Finish government could consider improving communication on the existing channels and procedures for reporting wrongdoings while continuing to cultivate a culture of open dialogue between staff and superiors and preventing wrongdoing in the first place. Improving communication efforts and awareness on the Finnish channels and procedures may also address concerns expressed by public officials during the dialogues on the regional tour of open government on the EU Whistleblower Directive.

Further, 58% of respondents to the Civil Servants Survey stated that ethics training was needed in the civil service (Moilanen, 2017[65]). The Flemish government provides an interesting and practical example on training on ethics that could be relevant to consider (Box 4.4).

A last point to underscore regarding the findings of the Civil Servants Survey is that a third of public officials consider pre- (31.2%) and post- (28.9%) public employment regulations as being the least clear of all regulations concerning ethical conduct. This could be problematic, given that the OECD survey found that 45% of Finns consider that if a large business offered a well-paid job to a high-level politician in exchange for political favours during their time in office they would tend to accept it. Therefore, the risk of arising conflict of interest situations could be addressed more effectively. In addition, while straightforward monetary bribes seem to be culturally a taboo, more diffuse quid pro quos, such as well-remunerated post-public employment, could be more easily tolerated and accepted. In fact, the OECD survey revealed that the “revolving door” scenario was one of the main determinants of trust at the local level (see Chapter 2). However, there is currently no institution in charge of oversight and enforcement of cooling-off periods and other post-public employment provisions in Finland (2020 OECD Survey on Lobbying). As such, Finland could consider looking at the recent reforms in France on monitoring revolving door provisions (Box 4.5).

In interviews conducted by the OECD for the occasion of this study, lobbying was recognised as an area where further work is needed. The relevance of the issue was also identified in a recent policy brief from the Ministry of Finance, which underscores the issues of whistleblower protection and the regulation of lobbying activities were increasingly in the public spotlight (Moilanen, 2018[64]).

Indeed, there has been some evidence that practices such as old boy networks, nepotism and excessive linkages with business are quite common in Finnish society (Salminen and Ikola-Norrbacka, 2009[68]). According to the 2020 OECD Survey on Lobbying, parliamentarians in Finland mentioned that privileged access to policy makers (lack of inclusion) and lack of transparency were among the main risks when stakeholders seek to influence policy making. Additionally, there are gaps in guidance for representatives on how to react on specific daily “influence” situations, such as being invited to a coffee, someone offering to put in a good word for their children’s university application, etc. At the same time, Finland currently does not provide public officials with awareness raising or communications activities on issues such as integrity in interactions with third parties or in the decision-making processes (OECD, forthcoming 2021[69])

The current Government Programme envisions enacting an Act on a Transparency Register in Finland, to improve the transparency of decision making and, by doing so, prevent undue influence and reinforce public trust. In fact, lobbying regulations can be considered to be part of a broader group of policies and government efforts, such as open government and access to public information laws and integrity reforms, among others, to add transparency and accountability to political processes (Chari et al., 2019[70]). In many cases, the introduction of lobbying regulations has been driven by scandals in response to people’s complaints and disengagement with the political system (OECD, 2014[71]), though the development of this act could follow the Finnish approach to broader integrity policies, with a more preventive and positive interpretation of lobbying practices, looking to strengthen inclusion and transparency instead of promoting control and enforcement.

The government of Finland could take the opportunity provided by this new act to promote an inclusive process that may further a transparent system and reinforce the commitment of different key actors, such as business, non-governmental organisations and think tanks, as promoted in Ireland, for example (Box 4.6). On the other hand, the new act may address new challenges and be better equipped to face the changing cultural and communications context, by, for example, broadening the scope of activities, actors and channels to be registered (i.e. including activities such as journo-lobbying, social media campaigns or crowdsourcing, performed by think tanks, non-profit organisations, etc.) in order to ensure that lobbying and influence practices are being used in a transparent and equitable manner. For example, the COVID-19 situation showed the relevance of new lobbying channels and of social media, as well as how these could be used to widen unequal access to policy making. Lobbyists who already had access to key decision makers and were able to sustain long-established relationships through phone calls, webinars, emails and instant messages increased the advantages linked to their access.

First, maintaining the high level of professionalism of public employees and the values that guide ethical behaviour is key. Finland could further strengthen its culture of public integrity by clarifying the existing channels for reporting wrongdoing and improving the dispositions regarding managing conflict of interest and pre- and post-public employment. Specific ethics trainings could further engage public officials and allow them to link these dispositions to situations they face on a daily basis.

Second, the upcoming register on lobbying/influence could promote transparency and inclusion in decision making, addressing concerns related to perceptions of undue influence and close ties between business and political elites from a preventive and values-based approach. The reform could be an opportunity to draft an innovative approach beyond narrow lobbying, taking into account new channels and practices of exerting influence on public decision making. An inclusive process could further strengthen the legitimacy of the envisaged reform together with a scope of dispositions aware of the current context and strengthen efforts and initiatives designed towards openness and fairness.

Fairness, as a dimension of trust, captures how much governments treat citizens and business consistently, protect all people for the benefit of society at large, and ensure a fair distribution of burdens and rewards among members of society (OECD, 2017[4]). Positive perceptions of fairness lead to greater trust in government, acceptance of agency decisions, better compliance with regulations and more co-operative behaviour in dealing with government agents. The reverse also holds: citizens are more likely to accept negative outcomes, such as financial penalties, if they feel that they have been treated fairly (Frey, Benz and Stutzer, 2004[72]).

High inequalities lower trust in others and in government (Gould and Hijzen, 2016[73]). In addition, recent evidence from European countries shows that, while citizens from lower economic strata trust political and administrative institutions less than privileged citizens, the trust gap between socio-economic groups is smaller in countries with high levels of inequality than in societies that are more inclusive. In other words, even when citizens themselves might profit from an unequal society, they may still feel that economic exclusion and inequality have a negative impact on their society as a whole and their living conditions (Goubin and Hooge, 2020[74]).

Fairness and equal treatment across generations is one of the seven strategic themes of Finland’s 2019 Government Programme. The foundations of the model are non-discrimination and equality, services in health, well-being and education financed by means of tax revenue, high social mobility, and an active civil society. At the same time, it is recognised there is a need to reform the content, structure and financing of healthcare and social welfare in order to strengthen quality services for the most fragile segments of the population, fill skills shortages in basic-level health and social services, enhance the financial capacity of the municipalities, and reduce fragmentation of services (Finnish Government, 2020[75]).

The importance that Finland places on fairness and non-discrimination in policy making is evidenced by the fact that these are two of the six pledges on policy reforms to citizens put forward by the government. People evaluate positively the government’s delivery on equity and non-discrimination. The score to the question of whether persons from a minority group are treated equally by government agencies was the highest in Finland among the six countries surveyed and the highest among all the questions on determinants of trust in Finland (see Figure 2.18, Panel A in Chapter 2). Importantly, the perception of living in an equal society has remained high even during the COVID-19 pandemic, while it is has deteriorated in many countries. In October 2020, 76% of the respondents thought that the society is fair (score of 7 or above). Although the score slightly worsened between April and October 2020, no statistically significant differences were observed by age, gender or region of residency (Figure 4.6).

The Nordic welfare model based on pursuing low income inequality and a large redistributive role of government has contributed to building and maintaining high levels of institutional trust in Finland (Figure 2.14). Income inequality remains low by OECD standards and, since the early 2000s, has remained broadly stable (Causa, Browne and Vindics, 2019[76]). At the same time, Finland’s employment rate was markedly lower than in the OECD and other Nordic countries in 2020 (Figure 2.13). Various reforms, such as co-ordinating the various working-age benefits against earnings or specific measures to lift work incentives for parents and older workers, could adapt the benefit systems to the changing demography and work patterns while preserving the current level of social protection (OECD, 2018[77]).

Dimensions commonly considered under fairness include the interests of all stakeholders being properly considered in policy decisions, the rule of law applying to all equally, public services treating all citizens equally or vulnerable groups receiving special attention so as to not be left behind. Another common distinction is between procedural fairness (how government decides, regulates and implements policies in a fair way) and fairness in outcomes (the perception that the outcomes received are equitable). Both aspects have been found to effect levels of institutional trust. However, in the case of Finland, the empirical analysis carried out on the results of the OECD Trust Survey did not yield statistically significant influence of the fairness questions on trust levels (see Figure 2.20 in Chapter 2). This may be explained by the fact that the baseline for fairness is very high (and indeed the most regarded quality of government in the survey; see Figure 2.23 Panel A) and therefore incremental changes on average may not have significant effect on trust. Nonetheless, Section 2.3 showed the existence of pockets of distrust in some population groups based on their location, income or education level, which should be addressed to reduce exclusion and enhance the resilience of the Finnish society.

In terms of procedural fairness, citizens in Finland have exceptionally high trust in their legal system. This reflects that the rule of law applies to all equally, or at least is perceived as such. Similarly, 87% of respondents in Finland believe that the political system in their country ensures that everyone has a fair chance to participate in politics greatly or to a fair extent, the second highest percentage after Norway (Figure 4.7).

In an international comparison, fairness in outcomes is relatively high in Finland. For example, one out of four respondents (27%) felt that they received a fair share of public benefits, given the taxes and social contributions they paid, while less than one out of five (19.4%) on average did so in the 21 OECD countries surveyed (OECD, 2019[9]). In addition, on a scale of 1 (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely), respondents indicated an average score of 5 that the financial burden of a tax reform would be shared fairly across social and income groups (OECD Trust Survey).

Historically, high intergenerational social mobility, both in income and education, helps explain fairness in outcomes (see Box 1.1). According to an OECD survey, it would take three generations for those born in low-income families to approach the mean income of Finland, while it takes 4.5 generations in the OECD average (OECD, 2018[78]). The influence of parental socio-economic status on students’ achievement in secondary education is weaker in Finland, which is a top performer in education, than it is in most OECD countries. It explained 12% of the variation in mathematics performance in PISA 2018 in Finland (compared to 14% on average across OECD countries), and 10% of the variation in science performance (compared to the OECD average of 13% of the variation) (OECD, 2019[79]).

However, in the past decades, intergenerational social mobility in Finland has slowed down. Children of low-qualified parents have, on average, a lower probability of completing a tertiary education than children of high-qualified parents, and young foreign-language speakers are less likely to enter further studies after upper secondary education than others are. Of those who graduated in 2016, the share of foreign-language speaking women who continued into further studies was 22 percentage points lower than women whose native language was Finnish, Swedish or Sámi (Kalevi Sorsa Foundation, 2020[80]).

Notwithstanding the high levels of fairness in Finland, challenges to maintain high levels of trust in institutions exist for some population groups, which may feel policies have left them behind. Recovery strategies from COVID-19 should take into account existing disparities and ensure that the most vulnerable are being supported and have opportunities to achieve. Finland’s active civil society would be essential to enhance social dialogue to support the formulation of inclusive recovery measures, such as the case with the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations (Box 4.7).

The Finnish welfare model, which has fostered strong inclusive growth, was facing challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular with respect to population ageing, relatively low employment rates and mobility of the tax base due to globalisation. Preserving the quality of welfare provision and promoting sustainable growth would require significant reforms in the 2020s, as outlined in the 12 outlooks included in the Opportunities for Finland publication prepared by the permanent secretaries of the ministries in 2019 (Government of Finland, 2019[81]).

The disproportional impact of the COVID-19 crisis on vulnerable population groups may represent a challenge to fairness and trust in Finland if not addressed in the recovery measures. Already during the emergency phase of the pandemic, questions of fairness have emerged regarding the choices of the economic sectors and segments of the population receiving subsidies and support. Tension between short-term choices and long-term impacts also exist, as fairness in the short term (helping the economic sectors most in need) may constrain future choices (for example, not enough investment in the green economy or transformation of skills for future generations). In view of the economic challenges ahead, including general government debt, it is important to continue policy dialogue and evaluating the implications of the different scenarios on equality and intergenerational justice.

The recovery measures to address the economic consequences of the crisis and build an inclusive and sustainable society will require significant reforms, long-term commitments and quick decisions. Policy co-ordination and decision making in Finland may need to be adapted to overcome the previous slowness of major reforms and fragmentation of decision making between the executive and civil servants (in particular political state secretaries) (EU, 2018[82]).

An inter-ministerial group led by the Minister of Finance submitted the “Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland” report on 27 November 2020 to parliament (Prime Minister's Office, 2020[83]). The report focuses on structural reforms of the economy and public service reforms to best use EU recovery funds. A key element of the programme is to accelerate the green transition and digital transformation through innovative solutions and new technologies. Priority will be given to measures which improve employment, competitiveness and the sustainability of public finances, and which help with net emissions reductions, strengthening the circular economy and adaptating to climate change. Partnerships, widespread involvement and interministerial collaboration are essential for the Sustainable Growth Programme to succeed. Should further fiscal stimulus be needed as supply recovers, it should be targeted on the most adversely affected sectors and groups and on projects that improve environmental outcomes, such as supporting the development of a charging network for electric vehicles. Cash transfers to help low-income households, the self-employed and small businesses could also be made. To foster labour market adjustment, the public employment service should provide more online training and education to the unemployed, for instance by pairing online training and education with unemployment benefits (OECD, 2020[84])

Recovery strategies from COVID-19 should take into account existing disparities, ensure that the most vulnerable are being supported, and manage possible trade-offs between short-term and long-term interventions. In this respect, Finland could strengthen a whole-of-government approach to evaluate the implications of the different recovery scenarios on equality and intergenerational justice.

Continue securing equality in the availability of and participation in early childhood education as well upper school education. Implementing specific protective measures in the school transitions of children and young people with an immigrant background is necessary, as segregation can be seen between the educational paths of those with an immigrant background and members of the majority population.

Strengthen social dialogue between demographic groups at the local level and remove barriers to participation of marginalised groups to enhance fairness. The preventive units in the police districts tasked to work with local administrations, young people, parents and minorities could be effective in building trust in the police and counteract media portrayals of aggressive police; it could be a method of working to be extended in other contexts (OECD, forthcoming 2021[85])


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← 1. This percentage corresponds to the share of the population who to the question: How much would you say the political system in Finland allows people like you to have a say in what the government does? answered 7-10 on a scale of 1-10. The percentage resulting from the European Social Survey encompass the percentage of the population who to the same question answered: some, a lot or a great deal. If response choices 5-6 (treated as neutral) are added to the OECD survey question response, the percentage increases to 42%, which is very similar to the result achieved through the European Social Survey (40.1%).

← 2. Similar findings on participation processes are also found in other studies (e.g. (Christensen, 2019[89]) (Christensen, 2018[90]) (Christensen, Karjalainen and Lundell, 2016[91]) (Puustinent and al, 2017[92]). Another study shows that the introduction of democratic innovations may not suffice to convince the most sceptical citizens of the good intentions of the authorities (Christensen, Karjalainen and Lundell, 2016[91]). (Puustinent and al, 2017[92]) argue that in the context of the Finnish legal culture, there is a crucial political mandate for the planner’s jurisdiction based on institutional trust. This jurisdiction is essential to afford the planner the justification for keeping broader issues on the planning agenda; such issues go beyond the specific concerns that the given stakeholders bring to the table. Interviews conducted in yet another study underscored the primacy of representative democracy and the legal-administrative planning arrangements in promoting the public interest, while doubting the citizen opponents’ competence and sincerity (Lehtonen and De Carlo, 2019[27]).

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