Politics of Finland
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Politics and government of
Politics of Finland takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic and of a multi-party system. The President of Finland is the head of state, leads the foreign policy, and is the Commander-in-chief of the Defense Forces. The Prime Minister of Finland is the head of government; executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament of Finland, and the government has limited rights to amend or extend legislation. The president has the power of veto over parliamentary decisions although it can be overrun by the parliament.
The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Judiciary consists of two systems, regular courts and administrative courts, headed by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, respectively. Administrative courts process cases where official decisions are contested. There is no "Constitutional Court" - the constitutionality of a law can be contested only as applied to an individual court case.
Though Finland has a primarily parliamentary system, the president has some notable powers. The foreign policy is led by the president, "in co-operation" with the cabinet, and the same applies to matters concerning national security. The main executive power lies in the cabinet headed by the prime minister. Before the constitutional rewrite, which was completed in 2000, the president enjoyed more power.
Finns enjoy individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal at 18; Finnish women became the first in the world to have unrestricted rights both to vote and to stand for parliament.
The country's population is ethnically homogeneous with no sizable immigrant population. Few tensions exist between the Finnish-speaking majority and the Swedish-speaking minority, although in certain circles there is an unending debate about the status of the Swedish language.
The labor agreements also pose significant political questions. Bargaining is highly centralized and often the government participates to coordinate fiscal policy. Finland has universal validity of collective labour agreements and often, but not always, the trade unions, employers and the government reach a Comprehensive Income Policy Agreement. Significant trade unions are SAK, STTK, AKAVA and EK.
The current Constitution was rewritten on 1 March 2000, the first was adopted on 17 July 1919. The original comprised four constitutional laws and several amendments, which the latter replaces. The civil law system is based on Swedish law. The Supreme Court (Finnish: korkein oikeus (KKO), Swedish: högsta domstolen) may request legislation that interprets or modifies existing laws. Judges are appointed by the President.
The constitution of Finland and its place in the judicial system are unusual in that there is no constitutional court and the supreme court does not have an explicit right to declare a law unconstitutional. In principle, the constitutionality of laws in Finland is verified by a simple vote in the parliament (see Parliamentary sovereignty). However, the Constitutional Law Committee (Finnish: perustuslakivaliokunta, Swedish: grundlagsutskottet) of the parliament reviews any doubtful bills and recommends changes, if needed. In practice, the Constitutional Law Committee fulfills the duties of a constitutional court. A Finnish peculiarity is the possibility of making exceptions to the constitution in ordinary laws that are enacted in the same procedure as constitutional amendments. An example of such a law is the State of Preparedness Act which gives the Council of State certain exceptional powers in cases of national emergency. As these powers, which correspond to US executive orders, affect constitutional basic rights, the law was enacted in the same manner as a constitutional amendment. However, it can be repealed in the same manner as an ordinary law. In addition to preview by the Constitutional Law Committee, all Finnish courts of law have the obligation to give precedence to the constitution when there is an obvious conflict between the constitution and a regular law. That is, however, very rare.
Finland has a parliamentary system, even if the President of Finland is formally responsible for foreign policy. Most executive power lies in the cabinet (the Finnish Council of State) headed by the prime minister. Responsibility for forming the cabinet out of several political parties and negotiating its platform is granted to the leader of the party gaining largest support in the elections for the parliament. This person also becomes prime minister of the cabinet. Any minister and the cabinet as a whole however must have continuing trust of the parliament and may be voted out, resign or be replaced. The Council of State is made up of the prime minister and the ministers for the various departments of the central government as well as an ex-officio member, the Chancellor of Justice.
In the official usage, the "cabinet" (valtioneuvosto) are the ministers including the prime minister and the Chancellor of Justice, while the "government" (hallitus) is the cabinet presided by the president. In the popular usage, hallitus (with the president) may also refer to valtioneuvosto (without the president).
Elected for a six-year term, the president:
- Handles Finland's foreign affairs in cooperation with the Cabinet, except for certain international agreements and decisions of peace or war, which must be submitted to the parliament
- Is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces;
- Has some decree and appointive powers
- Approves laws, and may call extraordinary parliamentary sessions
- Formally appoints the Prime Minister of Finland selected by the Parliament, and formally appoints the rest of the cabinet (Council of State) as proposed by the Prime Minister
Council of State
The Council of State is made up of the prime minister and ministers for the various departments of the central government as well as an ex-officio member, the Chancellor of Justice. Ministers are not obliged to be members of the Eduskunta (parliament) and need not be formally identified with any political party.
The president, after hearing the parliament, nominates a prime minister candidate for the parliament to approve in a vote. The prime minister chooses the rest of the cabinet, which is formally appointed by the president.
Responsibility in the European Union
There is currently an ongoing controversy as to whether the president or the prime minister is the primary representative of Finland to the EU. The 2000 rewrite of the constitution did not address this problem. Implicitly it places EU matters under domestic policy and therefore in the prime ministers domain. At the same time, discourse with other leaders of state constitutes exercising of foreign policy, which is the president's responsibility.
An amendment has recently been made to the constitution to demarcate at least the responsibility for EU military operations, which are unambiguously matters of national security and foreign policy. Nevertheless, a full demarcation has not been done. It has been questioned whether President Tarja Halonen represented only Finland or the entire EU when she met with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
The 200-member unicameral Parliament of Finland is called the Eduskunta (Finnish) or Riksdag (Swedish). It is the supreme legislative authority in Finland. The parliament may alter the Constitution of Finland, bring about the resignation of the Council of State, and override presidential vetoes. Its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the Council of State, or one of the Eduskunta members, who are elected for a four-year term on the basis of proportional representation through open list multi-member districts. Persons 18 or older, except military personnel on active duty and a few high judicial officials, are eligible for election. The regular parliamentary term is four years; however, the president may dissolve the eduskunta and order new elections at the request of the prime minister and after consulting the speaker of parliament.
The parliament has, since equal and common suffrage was introduced in 1906, been dominated by secular Conservatives, the Centre Party (former Agrarian Union), and Social Democrats. Nevertheless, none of these has held a single-party majority, with the notable exception of 1916 elections where Social Democrats gained 103 of the 200 seats. After 1944 Communists were a factor to consider for a few decades, and the Finnish People's Democratic League, formed by Communists and others to the left of Social Democrats, even was the largest party after 1958 elections. Support for Communists decreased sharply in the early 1980s, while later on the same decade environmentalists formed the Green League, which is now a medium-sized party. The Swedish People's Party represents Finland-Swedes, especially in language politics. The relative strengths of the parties vary only slightly in the elections due to the proportional election from multi-member districts but there are some visible long-term trends.
There is no constitutional court; matters concerning constitutional rights or constitutional law are processed by the Constitutional Committee of the Parliament (perustuslakivaliokunta). Additionally, the Constitutional Committee has the sole power to refer a case to the High Court of Impeachment (valtakunnanoikeus) and to authorize police investigations for this purpose.
In addition to the parliament, the Cabinet and President may produce regulations (asetus) through a rulemaking process. These give more specific instructions on how to apply statutes, which often explicitly delegate regulation of specific details to the government. Regulations must be based on an existing law, and they can clarify and specify, but not contradict the statute. Furthermore, the rights of an individual must always be based on a statute, not a regulation. Often the statute and the regulation come in similarly named pairs. For example, the law on primary education lists the subjects to the taught, and the regulation specifies the required number of teaching hours. Most of regulations are given by the Cabinet, but the President may give regulations concerning national security. Before 2000, the President had the right to enact regulations on matters not governed by parliamentary law, but this power was removed, and existing regulations were converted into regular statutes by the Parliament.
Political parties and elections
Finland's proportional representation system encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many coalition-cabinets. Formerly the life expectancy of the coalition governments has been short, but since about 1980 the trend has been that the same coalition rules for the whole period between elections.
Finland elects on national level a head of state—the president—and a legislature. The president is elected for a six-year term by the people. The Parliament (Finnish: eduskunta, Swedish: riksdag) has 200 members, elected for a four-year term by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies. Finland has a multi-party system, with three strong parties, in which no one party often has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties must work with each other to form coalition governments.
In addition to the presidential and parliamentary elections, there are European Parliament elections every five years, and local municipal elections (held simultaneously in every municipality) every four years.
|Candidate||Party||First round||Second round|
|Sauli Niinistö||National Coalition Party||1,131,254||36.96||1,802,328||62.59|
|Pekka Haavisto||Green League||574,275||18.76||1,077,425||37.41|
|Paavo Väyrynen||Centre Party||536,555||17.53|
|Timo Soini||True Finns||287,571||9.40|
|Paavo Lipponen||Social Democratic Party||205,111||6.70|
|Paavo Arhinmäki||Left Alliance||167,663||5.48|
|Eva Biaudet||Swedish People's Party||82,598||2.70|
|Sari Essayah||Christian Democrats||75,744||2.47|
|Total (turnout 69.74% and 65.98%)||3,070,429||2,904,886|
|Source: Ministry of Justice – First round, Second round|
|Parties||Votes||MPs||MPs %/votes %|
|National Coalition Party||599,138||17,703||20.4||1.9||44||6||22.0||1.08||0.04|
|Social Democratic Party of Finland||561,558||32,636||19.1||2.3||42||3||21.0||1.10||0.05|
|Swedish People's Party||125,785||735||4.3||0.3||9||0||4.5||1.05||0.07|
|Åland representative[r 2]||8,546||1,015||0.3||0.0||1||0||0.5||1.67||0.57|
|Other unrepresented parties|
|Communist Party of Finland||9,232||9,045||0.3||0.4||0||0||0||0||0|
|Senior Citizens' Party||3,195||13,520||0.1||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Communist Workers' Party||1,575||432||0.1||0.0||0||0||0||0||0|
|For the Poor||1,335||1,186||0.0||0.1||0||0||0||0||0|
Finland has a civil law system, based on Swedish law, with the judiciary exercising limited powers. Proceedings are inquisitiorial, where judges preside, conduct finding of fact, adjudication and giving of sanctions such as sentences; no juries are used. In e.g. criminal and family-related proceedings in local courts, the panel of judges may include both lay judges and professional judges, while all appeals courts and administrative courts consist only of professional judges. Precedent is not binding, with the exception of Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court decisions.
The judicial system of Finland is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and administrative courts with responsibility for litigation between the individuals and the administrative organs of the state and the communities. Finnish law is codified and its court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The administrative branch of justice consists of administrative courts and the Supreme Administrative Court. The administrative process has more popularity as it is cheaper and has lower financial risk to the person making claims. In addition to the regular courts, there are a few special courts in certain branches of administration. There is also a High Court of Impeachment for criminal charges (for an offence in office) against the President of the Republic, the justices of the supreme courts, members of the Council of State, the Chancellor of Justice and the Ombudsman of Parliament.
Although there is no writ of habeas corpus or bail, the maximum period of pre-trial detention has been reduced to four days. For further detention, a court must order the imprisonment. One does not have the right for one phonecall: the police officer leading the investigation may inform relatives or similar if the investigation permits. However, a lawyer can be invited. Search warrants are not strictly needed, and are usually issued by a police officer. Wiretapping does need a court order.
Finland is divided into democratically independent municipalities. A municipality can call itself either a "city" or "municipality". A municipality is governed by a municipal council (or city council) elected by proportional representation once every four years. Most of the tax burden, namely two thirds, is levied by the municipalities. Democratic decision making takes place on either the municipal or national level with few exceptions.
Until 2009, the state organization was divided into six provinces. However, the provinces were abolished altogether in 2010. Today, state local presence on mainland Finland is provided by 6 regional administrative agencies (aluehallintovirasto, avi), and 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus, ely-keskus). Regional administrative agencies have mostly law enforcement, rescue and judicial duties: police, fire and rescue, emergency readiness, basic services, environmental permits and enforcement and occupational health and safety protection. The Centres implement labor and industrial policy, provide employment and immigration services, and promote culture; maintain highways, other transport networks and infrastructure; and protect, monitor and manage the environment, land use and water resources.
The island province of Åland is located near the 60th parallel between Sweden and Finland. It enjoys local autonomy by virtue of an international convention of 1921, implemented most recently by the Act on Åland Self-Government of 1951. The islands are further distinguished by the fact that they are entirely Swedish-speaking. Government is vested in the provincial council, which consists of 30 delegates elected directly by Åland's citizens.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finland freed itself from the last restrictions imposed on it by the Paris peace treaties of 1947. The Finnish-Soviet Agreement of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance (and the restrictions included therein) was annulled but Finland recognised the Russian Federation as the successor of the USSR and was quick to draft bilateral treaties of goodwill as well as reallocating Soviet debts.
Finland deepened her participation in the European integration by joining the European Union with Sweden and Austria in 1995. It could be perhaps said that the country's policy of neutrality has been moderated to "military non-alignment" with an emphasis on maintaining a competent independent defence. Peacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations is the only real extra-national military responsibility which Finland undertakes.
After examining the position of women around the world, the Washington-based Population Crisis Committee reported in 1988 that Finland, slightly behind top-ranked Sweden and just ahead of the United States, was one of the very best places in which a woman could live. The group reached this conclusion after examining the health, educational, economic, and legal conditions that affect women's lives.
When compared with women of other nations, Finnish women, who accounted for just over 50 percent of the population in the mid1980s, did have a privileged place. They were the first in Europe to gain the franchise, and by the 1980s they routinely constituted about one-third of the membership of the Eduskunta (parliament) and held several ministerial posts. In the 1980s, about 75 percent of adult women worked outside the home; they made up about 48 percent of the work force. Finnish women were as well educated as their male counterparts, and, in some cases, the number of women studying at the university level, for example, were slightly ahead of the number of men. In addition to an expanding welfare system, which since World War II had come to provide them with substantial assistance in the area of childbearing and child-rearing, women had made notable legislative gains that brought them closer to full equality with men.
In 1972 the Council for Equality was established to advise lawmakers on methods for realizing full legal equality for women. In 1983 legislation arranged that both parents were to have equal rights for custody of their children. A year later, women were granted equal rights in the establishment of their children's nationality. Henceforth any child born of a Finnish woman would have Finnish citizenship. After a very heated national debate, legislation was passed in 1985 that gave women an equal right to decide what surname or surnames they and their children would use. These advances were capped by a law that went into effect in early 1987 forbidding any discrimination on the basis of sex and providing protection against it. Once these laws were passed, Finnish authorities signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in 1986.
In a number of areas, however, the country's small feminist movement maintained that the circumstances in which Finnish women lived needed to be improved. Most striking was the disparity in wages. Although women made up just under half the work force and had a tradition of working outside the home, they earned only about two-thirds of the wages paid to men. Occupations in which women predominated, such as those of retail and office personnel, were poorly paid in contrast to those in which men constituted the majority. Despite the sexes' equal educational attainments, and despite a society where sexual differentiation played a smaller role than it did in many other countries, occupational segregation in Finland was marked. In few of the twenty most common occupations were the two sexes equally represented. Only in occupations relating to agriculture, forestry, and school teaching was a rough parity approached, and as few as 6 percent of Finns worked in jobs where 40 to 60 percent of workers were of the opposite sex. Studies also found that equal educational levels did not—in any category of training—prevent women's wages from lagging behind those paid to men. Women tended to occupy lower positions, while males were more often supervisors or managers. This was the case everywhere, whether in schools or universities, in business, in the civil service, or in politics at both the local level and the national level.
In addition to their occupying secondary position in the workplace, women had longer workdays because they performed a greater share of household tasks than did men. On the average, their workweek outside the home was several hours shorter than men's because a greater portion of them were employed only part-time or worked in the service sector, where hours were shorter than they were in manufacturing. Studies have found, however, that women spent about twice as much time on housework as men—about three hours and forty minutes a day, compared with one hour and fifty minutes for men. Men did twice as many household repairs and about an equal amount of shopping, but they devoted only one-third to one-fourth as much time to cleaning, cooking, and caring for children. Given that the bulk of family chores fell to women, and that they were five times more likely than men to head a single-parent family, the shortcomings of Finland's child day-care system affected women more than it did men.
The Equality Law that went into effect in 1987 committed the country to achieving full equality for women. In the late 1980s, there was a timetable listing specific goals to be achieved during the remainder of the twentieth century. The emphasis was to be equality for everyone, rather than protection for women. Efforts were undertaken not only to place women in occupations dominated by males, but also to bring males into fields traditionally believed to belong to the women's sphere, such as child care and elementary school teaching. Another aim was for women to occupy a more equal share of decision-making positions.
- Political parties in Finland
- Foreign relations of Finland
- Politics of Åland
- Flag of Finland
- Comprehensive Income Policy Agreement
- Text from PD source: US Library of Congress: A Country Study: Finland, Library of Congress Call Number DL1012 .A74 1990.