HELSINKI, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Protection of the rule of law principle and alternative prison systems were the two leading themes as EU ministers for justice convened in Helsinki on Friday.
Chairing the meeting, Finnish Minister for Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson said that "common values and the rule of law are key elements in building the trust of citizens in society".
The ministers discussed ways of supporting the the rule of law principle through education and giving assistance to civic organizations.
Henriksson told reporters that "good spirit" was the best result from the gathering in Helsinki. She saw that as an indication that "some small progress" could be made during the Finnish presidency of the Council of the EU.
Henriksson described the participation of the representatives of Poland and Hungary in the talks in Helsinki as "surprisingly positive".
Finland has been pursuing a plan that EU financing for member countries would be tied to the application of values and the rule of law. The plan was not discussed as it does not belong to the policy areas of justice ministers, but is handled in the EU General Affairs Council.
EU justice ministers were briefed about the "open prisons" in Finland. People who do not have a high risk of escaping and who are not a danger to the society can serve at least part of their sentence in an open institution in Finland.
They have to overnight in their cells, but during the day they have variable rights of leaving the compounds. The ministers were offered a tour in one such open prison in the Helsinki area.
"The challenges regarding prison conditions and alternative sanctions are not easy to tackle", Henriksson said. She said earlier during the week that there is no plan under way to try to harmonize prison systems in the European Union.
Open prisons divide opinions in Finland. In one town in central Finland, a civic campaign tried to block the construction of an open prison in the downtown area, but failed and the construction began, local media reported.
Henriksson told Xinhua that in an opposite case a mayor of another town had expressed concern to her that the open prison in that town would not be closed.
Michael O'Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Ritghts, addressed the meeting. He focused on the fundamental rights of people who have been detained.