Constitutionalist resistance to authoritarianism and populism? Workshop to commemorate the 100 years of Finland’s independence

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Our working group is extremely pleased to recommend the workshop “Constitutionalist resistance to authoritarianism and populism? Workshop to commemorate the 100 years of Finland’s independence” that will take place at the EUI on Monday, April 10 in Sala del Consiglio, Villa Salviati.

Prof. Gábor Halmai, our advisor, Oliver Garner, member of our working group and Elena Brodeala, ConstPol coordinator will also talk about Brexit and about the rise of populism in Central and Eastern Europe by looking at the concrete cases of Hungary and Romania.


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 centralised 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, Vladmir 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 realised 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 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland.


Associate Professor Manuela Caiani (Scuola Normale Superiore)

Prof. Tuomas Ojanen (University of Helsinki)

Elena Brodeala (EUI – Law)

Marta Achler (EUI – Law)

Prof. Juha Lavapuro (University of Turku)

Oliver Garner (EUI – Law)

Prof. Gábor Halmai ( EUI – Law)

Dr. Janne Taalas (Ambassador of Finland in Italy)

Ms. Maija Sakslin (Deputy Ombudsman)

Prof. Veli-Pekka Viljanen (University of Turku)

Associate Professor Janne Salminen (University of Turku)

Prof. Elina Pirjatanniemi (Åbo Akademi University)

 Programme here