“Constitutionalist resistance to authoritarianism and populism?” Workshop to commemorate the 100 years of Finland’s independence. April 10, 2017, EUΙ

Before its independence in 1917 Finland was for more than 100 years an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. During this time its nationhood and national identity emerged – or were even consciously created – with reference to existing pre-independence constitutional instruments, some of them inherited from Sweden, others crafted by the autonomous province itself and seeking, when times were good, the approval of the Emperor of Russia. In bad times, legalism and constitutionalism came to play an important role in Finnish non-violent resistance against authoritarian rule.

Today, constitutionalism is subject to new challenges. In various parts of the world, populism appears to be rallying, and in many a case with an authoritarian undertone. To a worrying degree evidence is accumulating of deliberate and often coordinated strategies by populist movements consciously to undermine many basic constitutional institutions of liberal democracies. Elected parliaments, fundamental rights of individuals and independent judges are all getting their share of being blamed for the imperfect state of affairs when populists seek to appeal to the ‘masses’ which often in fact consist of only some segments of the population.

When populists gain sufficient support to allow them to rule, either alone or in a coalition with some mainstream political parties that feel the pressure of the ‘masses’, power tends to be centralized with the executive, while constitutional courts or other vital institutions are marginalised or taken over, fundamental human rights are curtailed, and principles the rule of law turned upside down. Liberal constitutionalism has been pushed aside by illiberal authoritarianism in, for instance, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Poland and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. The narrowly decided Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s victory – even if only with the support of a minority of the voters – in the United States will possibly be followed by similar results in forthcoming elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway, Slovenia and Portugal. The entry of the populist True Finn Party (who prefer to call themselves simply as ‘the Finns’) into the Finnish Government coincides with attacks against constitutional law expertise and even against the Constitution itself.

The rise of populism and its mutation into authoritarianism may come to threaten all central features of modern liberal constitutionalism: rule of law, democracy and individual rights. At the same time, some populists have selectively adopted constitutionalist vocabulary. National constitutional identity is harnessed to resist European rules and their oversight, freedom of expression is employed to protect racism and hatred, popular sovereignty is referred to when claiming to represent the ‘masses’, illiberal amendments are introduced to the constitution following constitutional procedures to the letter. Democratic principles are said to be realized through numerous referenda orchestrated by populist politics.

This workshop will pay special attention to the antagonistic relationship between populist politics and constitutionalism. The overall question that we will try to answer is what kind of legal mechanisms, strategies and arguments constitutions and constitutionalism provide to counter the rise of populism and the risk of authoritarianism. To what extent can resistance be based on existing institutions such as courts? Or should we refresh old theories such as militant democracy or constitutional patriotism?

Might national constitutional histories, including struggles for independence, provide a model? Or are we witnessing the emergence of new modes of engagement, including through new social media?

The workshop is organized jointly by the European University Institute and the Finnish Academy research project Constitutionalism Reconfigurd (CORE). It commemorates the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland.

Provisional Programme

April 10

9:30 Opening Statements
Professor Martin Scheinin, Dean of Graduate Studies (EUI)
Dr. Janne Taalas, Ambassador of Finland in Italy

Panel I: Constitutional Legacies: Finland at 100 (9.45-11.15)

  • Dean Martin Scheinin: Finland: A Nation Born with Internationalist Constitutionalism in its DNA
  • Professor Tuomas Ojanen: Transformations of the Finnish Constitutional Challenge to EU Membership 1995-2017: a look at challenges ahead after the challenges from the past
  • Deputy Ombudsman Maija Sakslin: Freedom of the People and Freedom of Speech – reflections from the Finnish Ombudsman
  • Professor Veli-Pekka Viljanen: Constitutional Change and Constitutional Continuity


Panel II: Constitutional Dangers (11.30-13.00)

  • Professor Gabor Halmai: Populism, constitutionalism and the misuse and abuse of constitutional identity in Hungary
  • Associate Professor Janne Salminen: Legalism as Part of the Finnish Constitutional Identity?
  • PhD Candidate Marta Achler: Poland, Populism, and New Social Media
  • Associate Professor Manuela Caiani: Extreme Right online networks and discourses of opposition to the EU in Central and Eastern Europe


Panel III: Constitutional Crises (14.30-16.00)

  • PhD Candidate Oliver Garner: Brexit and Popular Sovereignty
  • Professor Elina Pirjatanniemi: How the Trick Is Done – Human Rights and Parliamentary Rhetoric in Finland
  • PhD Candidate Elena Brodeala: Constitutional and Political Crisis in Romania
  • Professor Juha Lavapuro: Populism and attacks against constitutionalism in Finland

16.00 Closing Words

17.00 Visit to Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Firenze

  • Special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence: Markku Piri – Vetro & Dipinti
  • Guided tour to Cappella dei Magi
  • Reception (for registered participants)


Register by 31 March: claudia.deconcini@eui.eu

For more information visit:  http://www.eui.eu/events/detail.aspx?eventid=134263

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