Committees in Finnish municipalities: membership matters

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As we already mentioned in one of our blogs, Finnish municipal elections will be held on April 18, 2021. In that blog, we told you why voting in municipal elections in Finland is important. We also told you who can become a candidate in those elections and how. 

This week, we’ll talk more about why it makes sense to become a candidate even if you don’t get elected. Such candidates can still make their views heard and have an influence on local decisions through, for example, memberships in committees in Finnish municipalities.

Committees in Finnish municipalities

Decision-making structures in Finnish municipalities vary somewhat as there are only a few decision-making bodies that municipalities need to have by law. These are the municipal council (valtuusto) , the municipal board (kunnanhallitus), and the municipal audit committee (tarkastuslautakunta). The English translation of the Local Government Act calls these local councils, local executives, and local authority audit committees respectively. 

In addition to these, municipalities can establish so-called local authority committees (lautakunta) or standing committees (valiokunta) which function under the municipal board. Most commonly municipalities in Finland have established local authority committees. 

The Local Government Act does not stipulate what type of committees the municipal council sets up if any. But because the responsibilities of municipalities are the same across the country, there are a lot of similarities in the setup of such committees. In 2017, of all municipal committees in Finland 44 % governed over infrastructure and the environment, 31 % over education and culture, and 13 % over social and health services

The names of these committees vary from municipality to municipality. Commonly, however, the infrastructure or technical committee usually presides over water and waste management, and zoning. The committee presiding over education and culture usually deals with daycare, elementary school, high school, aftercare, library, culture, youth, and sports services. Social and health service committees deal with, for example, basic health care and dental care, and elderly care. 

These local authority committees are extremely important in municipal decision making. Although municipal councils can decide what type of power they delegate to these committees, the committees often direct and supervise the municipal services within their field. They are also heavily involved in the preparation of municipal decisions. Often the decisions the municipal council makes have gone through a series of preparations and negotiations at the committee level. 

Municipal committee members

The centrality of these committees in municipal decision making makes their membership important for anyone interested in local politics. 

Different municipalities have different rules regarding memberships in municipal committees. Most often members do not need to be councilors. Members do need to, however, fulfill the same eligibility requirements as council members. They also can’t be working for the municipality in the service branch under that particular committee. 

Committee members change after the elections since committee memberships are distributed to political parties based on the election results. The parties then name their candidates for committees in Finnish municipalities. Each party has their own rules regarding how they choose their committee member candidates. Often, however, they are people who’ve been candidates in the municipal election. 

Committees sit for the 4-year election cycle. Sometimes committee memberships become vacant during that cycle. Again, parties decide whom they are going to nominate for that committee position. Ultimately, however, the municipal council then makes the final decision on membership. But because seats in committees are distributed to parties based on election results, councils appoint members nominated by the parties. 

Other municipal bodies where one can influence decision-making

Municipal committees are not the only type of municipal bodies where active party members can influence municipal decision making. 

Municipalities can fully or partially own companies that need to have executive board members. Neighboring municipalities can have joint committees or projects that again need to have political appointees managing or supervising them. In addition, municipalities can have working groups or commissions focusing on specific issues important to local residents. Those need members. 

For example, the city of Helsinki currently has Elderly Citizens Council, Council on Disability, Gender Equality Commission, and Non-Disctimination Commission and others that all have politically appointed members. Vantaa and Espoo both have similar types of commissions or councils. 

Need to know Finnish varies

Being a municipal council or committee member requires knowing Finnish or Swedish enough to read the relevant materials and participate in the discussions. In Finnish speaking municipalities council materials are in Finnish. In Swedish speaking municipalities in Swedish. This naturally limits participation to those who have the necessary language abilities. 

However, political parties do have their local governments, boards, possibly even neighborhood associations, and their boards. These provide various ways of being active and working for the issues you care about. There also the necessary levels of Finnish or Swedish vary widely depending on the other people involved in the activities. The only way for you to find out is to contact the people in the party you are interested in. In our previous blog post on elections, we gave you links to the webpages of Finnish political parties. 

Get in touch with them and get involved!

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