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Names of Government projects must be given in national languages

The Ombudsman criticises the exclusion of national languages

The Parliamentary Ombudsman (OA) Petri Jääskeläinen criticises the fact that the projects by the Ministry of Justice  published in the Government Project Register were named only in English (Rainbow Rights - Promoting LGBTI Equality in Europe, and the Against Hate project). 

Both projects had been set up by the Ministry's Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs and Fundamental Rights at the time. The Ministry considered the name of the project mainly as a technical working name intended to be used by project partners and other co-operative partners and the project funder and did not consider the name relevant to the public as referred to in the Language Act.

The Ombudsman saw the matter differently. Publishing projects in the Project Register promotes the openness of authorities’ actions and public awareness of pending projects. A project with an appropriate name may in itself be information that illustrates the project and guides the public to find more information about it. This highlights the importance of naming projects in an understandable manner both in terms of content and language. This is why it is not irrelevant how authorities' projects are named on a case-by-case basis.

No clearly legally binding argument could be found that would require projects to be named only in a foreign language.

The Ombudsman reminds that according to the Constitution, the national languages in Finland are Finnish and Swedish. Therefore names that are only in English are not in line with the Constitution. They also do not contribute to the implementation of fundamental linguistic rights and good governance as required by the Constitution. 

Using only an English name for the project is also not in accordance with the Language Act. A bilingual authority, such as the Ministry, must show on their own initiative that they use both national languages in their activities. In addition, the Language Act requires the preservation of the linguistic cultural heritage of the country and the promotion of the use of both national languages. Foreign languages can be used in addition to national languages but not if they exclude them. 

From the perspective of the Administrative Procedure Act, authorities must use clear and understandable language. Using only English for a name of a public project does not meet these requirements.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has brought his view to the attention of the Ministry of Justice.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen's decision no. 1167/2019 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.

Further information is available from Referendary Counsellor Mikko Sarja, tel. +358 9 432 3364.