Interview with Jukka Autio, the wise and experienced Finnish lawyer.
Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Jukka Autio. As the managing partner of “Suomen Laki ja Talous SLT OY/ Finnish Law and Economy Pte Ltd”, Jukka Autio has practiced commercial and legal expert advocate duties since the early 1990s.
In this wise, engaging and informative interview, Jukka shares with us a brief history of Finnish law, interesting developments of Finland from the legal perspective, “Finnish-ness” and his wishes for Finland 100. Personally, I loved the parts where Jukka shares his thoughts about Mr Risto Ryti and Åland. Enjoy!
TH: Hello Jukka! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?
Jukka: Hello, I´m doing fine and all of us here at the office are doing our best to help our clients in various legal and other matters.
Our concept to practicing law is somewhat different to others as we see law mainly as a tool to help our clients to achieve their goals. As most of our clients are seeking help for multidimensional matters, we have also hired people who are not lawyers, and as well as we are co-operating with many coming from other than legal background.
In short, we see that there are three aspects to our operation: we are solving problems (simple cases, applying mainly only one law), we are finding solutions (more complicated cases, where several laws or skills are to be taken into consideration simultaneously), we are creating possibilities (a wider cross-expertise operation as well as a positive approach to helping our clients for the best of their future).
TH: As a distinguished Finnish lawyer, can you tell us a brief history of Finnish law and some of the major milestones in its developments?
Jukka: Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden until 1809. The first codex of any importance in Finland today date to 1734, and is actually of Swedish origin. There are actually still some paragraphs in Finnish law from the 1734 law.
Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland of the Russian Empire in 1809. As she was an autonomous grand duchy of the empire, the laws of 1734 stayed in force most of the 19th century as Finns were already then reluctant to be Russian. Any major new legislation was only imposed during the latter part of the 19th century as a consequence of industrial revolution in Europe. From this period of time there is still commercial regulation in force, also the foundations of the Criminal Code of Finland in todays law book are from the law of 1889.
During the turmoil of the Russian Empire in 1905 Finland was actually the first country in the world to give women full political rights, i.e. both the right to vote and to run for the office, and first country in Europe to give women the right to vote. The world´s first female members of parliament were elected in Finland, in 1907.
When Finland gained its independence in 1917, the laws of Finland were comprehensively updated. This work was mainly finished during the 1920’s. For example, the foundations of the Finnish constitution of today were imposed during these comprehensive legislative actions.
During the great global depression of 1930´s there were some major developments to Finnish law mainly through legal praxis still having at least some importance.
Finland was accepted as a member of the United Nations in 1955.
After the 2nd World War Finland was under the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union, a super power of its time and a neighbouring country to Finland. This had its influence to laws and legal praxis of Finland until the Soviet Union broke down. Especially, when the baby boomers from the 1940´s started its working life in the end of 1960´s and in the beginning of 1970´s and became a major, rather radical, political force in Finland, the evolution of legislation gained new momentum in Finland. For example, the foundations of Labour Laws as well as the foundations of todays Family Law, Social Laws, Pension, and the Tax Codex date for most to this period.
Immediately when the Soviet Union broke down at the very end of 1980’s, Finland joined to the European Convention of the Human Rights in 1990. Finland also joined the European Union in 1995. As Finland was now unleashed from the sphere of influence of its politically active neighbour, which a little by little evolved to todays Russia, a massive updating of the Finnish legislation took place in a rapid paste. Actually, most of the laws of Finland of today have been rewritten since Finland joined the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Union, and these two developments have influenced also practically to all legal praxis there is.
For example, the regulation of legal and administrative processes, insolvency, entrepreneurship, and administration of todays Finland were rewritten after she joined the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Union.
As a summary, it is clear that the evolution of todays Finnish law has its roots in the major cornerstones of the history of Finland, and has occurred in a rather sudden bursts when the environmental and political pressures and restrictions to Finnish political decision makers have loosened up.
As todays world is in a stage of major restructuring, which process is still evolving and forming its shape in all over the world, it is to be expected that this global shift will have a major influence also in legal thinking and concepts in all corners of the world – also here in Finland. It is evident that, for example, the laws and practices of the laws of Immigration, Employment, Entrepreneurship, Taxation, Criminal Code, Association, Education, Social Security, Pension, and even Political Rights are under pressure to face changes in Finland. The only new feature to this evolution is the existence of the European Union in a sense that the future legal steps to be taken are openly more multinational than before.
TH: Finland is commonly said to be a country which values equality. How do you think “equality” is reflected in the Finnish law? Can you give us some examples?
Jukka: It is true that Finnish people value equality a lot, and this valuation has been existing for long. This drive for equality is also reflected in the Finnish law – for example, equal full political rights for both genders since 1906 as the first country of the world.
Also, we Finns have deliberately been building Finland as a welfare state, which is a concept of nothing more or less than equality. The idea of welfare state is to divide welfare to all through collecting taxes unequally.
The use and division of taxes collected is decided by the parliament and executed by administration – and occurs partly by distributing various kinds of social benefits to those, who otherwise would have less, and partly by using the collected tax funds for parliamentary decided purposes promoting the concept of welfare state and equality (equal possibility to education is a good example of this use).
There are also other laws in Finland, which have an objective to enhance equality – for example, the Marriage Act, Employment Law, Consumer Protection, and regulation related to rental relationships.
We Finns see that promoting equality benefits us all as social injustices are in general flattened, why there should not be fertile ground for extremism or radical confrontation between various groups of people.
TH: What is the one thing you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?
Jukka: Finland has a rather small population and at the same time, her area is quite large.
Finland has a super power, even if some say a former one, as a neighboring country, and also the Kingdom of Sweden was European super power of its time. Finland has been able to cope with multiple incidences, political interests and wars in between these two and other major European countries with a very limited number of population, and was yet able to gain its independence as well as it was able to maintain its rather unique own culture.
Therefore, I think most of the Finns are proud of Finland being what it actually is today taking all these past events in very difficult situations threatening the whole existence of the nation into consideration.
As you asked before, Finns in general value equality and equal opportunities for all, and Finland at the moment should be a good platform for this – this is the thing we have been able to achieve.
I think that most Finns understand that Finland has, as a whole, been successful in building something unique in very challenging circumstances.
TH: What is the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen, and how do you think this can change?
Jukka: Finland is a somewhat parochial country; people are happy with themselves and do not always see nor want to see everything what is going on in the surrounding world.
This relates to whole nation, its population as well as to Finnish companies. There are certain fixed institutional structures in Finland, which are doing their best in order to keep it the way it is, as its their livelihood. Therefore, it takes sometimes quite a long time to make decisions and to adapt to changing environment.
I see, however, all of this changing naturally as the new generation grows – it is going to be more international by birth and, above all, it has lived all its life in the European Union and thinks and sees things through a different set of mind than the previous generations.
TH: What are some unique/noble/strange/interesting things about Finnish law that you think most people might not know?
Jukka: I would say that the freedom to roam, or everyman’s right. It is the general public’s right to access certain public or privately owned land for recreation and exercise. Even though this right in Finland is similar to other Nordic countries, it might be something most foreigners do not know.
In Finland everyone may walk, ski or cycle freely in the countryside where this does not harm the natural environment or the landowner, except in gardens or in the immediate vicinity of people’s homes (yards). One may even stay or set up camp temporarily in the countryside, a reasonable distance from homes, pick mineral samples, wild berries, mushrooms and flowers (as long as they are not protected species). One may also fish with a rod and line (only still waters), row, sail or use a motorboat on waterways (with certain restrictions), and swim or bathe in both inland waters and the sea. One can walk, ski and ice fish on frozen lakes, rivers and the sea. Income from selling picked berries or mushrooms is tax-free.
This right is a positive right in the respect that only the government is allowed to restrict it as in the case of strict nature reserves. However, the exact definition remains mostly uncoified and based on the principle of nulla poena sine lege (what is not illegal cannot be punished).
Another interesting legal thing in Finland which might be less known is that Åland Islands have an autonomous status meaning that those provincial powers normally exercised by representatives of the central Finnish government are largely exercised by Åland´s own government. Åland Islands were granted extensive autonomy by the Parliament of Finland in the Act on the Autonomy of Åland of 1920, which was later replaced by new legislation by the same name in 1951 and 1991.
This autonomous status was affirmed by a decision made by the League of Nations in 1921, and it was reaffirmed within the treaty admitting Finland to the European Union. By law, Åland is politically neutral and entirely demilitarised, and residents are exempt from conscription to the Finnish Defence Forces.
Contrary to other parts of Finland, Åland remains exclusively Swedish-speaking by law. This demilitarised status of Åland has often and also recently been in the spotlight, as Swedish generally see Åland, and anyone having control over her, as a dagger pointed directly to the Heart of Sweden.
TH: What are some things/ traits you would consider as uniquely “Finnish”? Would globalisation affect them?
Jukka: According to my opinion, every nation has its unique cultural features, history, and ingrown silent values / wisdom, which are all worth preserving.
I think that even though the world is getting smaller and smaller all the time as the knowledge of mankind increases continuously, and as the nations are constantly interacting in various fields more and more with each other growing, thus, more interdependent, globalisation should and will not lead to these unique national features to be lost.
If one defines Finland´s these unique features as “Finnish-ness”, one may be able to find a typically Finnish mix of certain national features – including drive for clean nature, love for summer-cottages, “sisu”, sauna, spells of midsummer night, drive for equality, stubbornness, stiffness, introverted-ness / sulky-ness, applying certain “engineering focus” to almost everything possible, over-politicising, triangular labor market, Finnish practice of following strictly the rules and regulations, etc.
These typically Finnish features are as they already exist, and as they are built-in in Finns and their culture they are bound to remain in some form or another regardless of the globalisation.
As of today, many of these features of “Finnish-ness” are under a pressure. I am, for example, sure that many Finns find it uncomfortable with many immigrants coming to Finland not so used to strictly follow rules and regulations set – however, the likely outcome is that it is the immigrants who will adapt to “Finnish-ness” and not the other way around.
I would regard as typically Finnish also a certain ability to understand various selfish power blocks of the world due to its history, and to be able to balance these blocks interests. This is why Finland has already for long underscored the operation of various international organisations and institutions.
TH: What are some popular misconception about Finland/ Finns that you would consider as far from the truth?
Jukka: As Finns are maybe regarded to be somewhat sulky as well as quite hard to get acquainted with, people may consider Finns as unfriendly and withdrawn by nature. People may, thus, also consider Finns to be slow and somewhat simple. However, I do not find these opinions to be correct, at least not with the younger generation.
Also in general, Finns are in reality quite open to new things, and are, at the end of the day, also quite friendly, loyal and trustworthy – of course, only after you get to know them.
As the Finns are spearheading many new industries and technologies, for example, in digitalisation, gaming, bio medics, and even in space exploration, the truth is that Finns are quite creative and innovative. People do not, for instance, generally know that Finland is as a country in top ten in the World to register new innovations.
TH: “Finns overly care about how the world sees them”. Do you think this is statement true?
Jukka: It is now and then argued that “Finns overly care about how the world sees them”. I see that there sure is a grain of truth in this argument, but at the same time this sensitivity should be understood in its historical context.
After the 2nd World War Finland existed for decades under sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union and Finland was considered to grovel in this relationship. The West more or less accepted all attempts from the former Soviet Union to pressure Finland to be a part of the Eastern block as Finland, whether Finns want to accept it or not, after all joined the Nazi German offence against the Soviet Union in summer 1942 in order to retrieve all Finnish soil that the Soviet Union took by force as a consequence of the Winter War of 1939-1940.
After the 2nd World War a concept of Finlandization was created by Germans to describe this Finnish behaviour of cautiously listening everything the Soviet Union suggested, and, at the same time, desperately doing all in their power there was to remain as independent as possible in these difficult circumstances. Especially during the years of Finlandization especially Finnish politicians were overly cautious of how the world saw Finland and Finns as there were always a real concern and fear that Western world would reach a conclusion that Finland had finally and conclusively slipped to the Eastern block. Due course of time this overly sensitive attitude of Finnish politicians and Finnish media spread out to cover the whole nation and its people.
I do not think that the Finns are anymore particularly sensitive over that of what the rest of the world thinks of them. As Finland has since long been a part of the European Union and as the younger generation is taking over a step by step, any possible over-sensitive attitudes of Finns of about how the rest of the world sees them is, to my opinion, only a mere reflection from the past.
TH: Who inspires you, and why?
Jukka: As there are many people who inspire me, it is not possible to name them all here.
For example, the former president of Finland, Mr Risto Ryti, inspires me as he was able to set his personal interests and wellbeing aside in order to save the nation in 1944, when it was absolutely necessary for Finland to get arms from Nazi Germany in order to stop the Soviet advance against Finland.
In order to give any supplies to Finland the Germans demanded Finland to commit itself to stand beside Nazi Germany until the bitter end regardless of the fact that it was already evident that Nazi Germany was to lose the ware. Even though Nazi Germany was evidently compelled to supply Finnish army in order to save its armies at the Leningrad front, President Ryti gave his personal commitment to Nazi Germany that Finland would not seek separate peace with Allies during his presidency, which personal commitment proved to be enough for the Germans.
After the 2nd World War President Ryti was sentenced during the Soviet influenced war-responsibility trials in Finland because of him giving this personal commitment to Nazi Germany.
As we practice law also to create possibilities for our clients, I would name Mother Theresa an another example. Her unselfish work and deep commitment to help those less fortunate or underprivileged, has created possibilities for many in an individual level.
Her example proves to me that also individual people can and do have an influence. Of course there are many who could be used as an example of having an influence in an individual level, but as Mother Theresa and her life is commonly known to many, I chose to select her as an example.
TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?
Jukka: My birthday-wish for the 100th anniversary of Finland would be that Finns, especially younger generations, not to take everything for granted. The Finns should be able to turn the significant milestones of the past to wisdom and knowledge to guide Finland to its path for the next 100-years.
The history of Finland proves, for example, that it is sometimes wise to settle for less in order to keep something worth fighting and preserving for, individual decisions may make the difference when moral is followed, and that it is not wise for any nation to gamble in the long run. Also, the history has shown Finns that it is worth while to take time to reason rather than make hasty decisions, respect one´s environment, and to stay united in difficult times. All lessons to be learned from the Finnish history are, of course, rather generic by nature, which is why these teachings are easy to understand also for foreigners.
As what happened in history is actually all empirical know-how there is, lessons from the history is actually the only asset we have to cope with unforeseen challenges we all, as a humanity, will face in future. These future issues include, but are not limited to, globalisation, which is gaining momentum as ever before, present refugee explosion, leading sooner or later to global redistribution of wealth, and ongoing huge environmental challenges, like the climate change, threatening, at the end of the day, the whole existence of mankind.
TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?
Jukka: As I am a lawyer and my point of view to this interview has derived from legal perspective, I must point out that there has, of course, been laws and legal practices in Finland prior to codex of 1734. Even today the Instruction for a Judge by Olaus Petri dated to 1520-1540 are to be found on the first pages of the Laws of Finland.
It is stated in these instructions, for example, that the good of the common man is the supreme law, and what is neither just nor fair cannot be the law; it is for the equity in the law that is accepted; all law shall by applied with wisdom, because the greatest justice is the greatest injustice, and mercy shall be included in all justice; the good of the common man is the supreme law, and therefore, what is found useful for the common man shall be deemed the law even if the words of a written law would seem to order otherwise.
Even if I am a lawyer, let us skip any references to law. These principal values of even todays Finnish society to be just and fair, and aim for common good in our everyday lives, are about 450 years old, are still valid and in no doubt will carry also for next 100 years. At the same time, I must stress that being just and fair does not in anyway mean the same than turn the other cheek – no, one has to be ready and have a right to defend important values and matters also in days to come.
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