Politics of Finland
The politics of Finland take place within the framework of a parliamentary representative democracy. Finland is a republic whose head of state is President Sauli Niinistö, who leads the nation's foreign policy and is the supreme commander of the Finnish Defence Forces. Finland's head of government is the Prime Minister, who leads the nation's executive branch, called the Finnish Government. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament of Finland (Finnish: Suomen eduskunta, Swedish: Finlands riksdag), and the Government has limited rights to amend or extend legislation. Because the Constitution of Finland vests power to both the President and Government, the President has veto power over parliamentary decisions, although this power can be overruled by a majority vote in the Parliament.
The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches. The judiciary consists of two systems: regular courts and administrative courts. The judiciary's two systems are headed by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, respectively. Administrative courts process cases in which official decisions are contested. There is no constitutional court in Finland – the constitutionality of a law can be contested only as applied to an individual court case.
The citizens of Finland enjoy many individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal at age 18; Finnish women became the first in the world to have unrestricted rights both to vote and to run for public office.
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.[clarification needed]
Finland's labor agreements are based on collective bargaining. 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 national income policy agreement. Significant Finnish trade unions include SAK, STTK, AKAVA, and EK.
Autonomous but under Russian ruleEdit
A Finnish political identity and distinctively Finnish politics first developed under the Russian rule in the country from 1809 to 1917. During the era Finland had an autonomous position within the Russian Empire with its own legislative powers. However, all bills had to be signed into law by the Russian Emperor who was the Grand Duke of Finland. Also, military power was firmly in Russian hands. Previously Finland had been a part of Sweden and did not have any political institutions of its own, rather people of Finnish ethnicity participated in Swedish politics.
During the Russian rule, political activism gradually grew demanding more autonomy and eventually independence for Finland. However, several generations of struggle were needed before the Finnish nationalist movement realized its objectives. One form of activism was the underscoring of Finnish language, also at the expense of the primacy of Swedish language that was still widely spoken and the official language of the country. Numerous members of the Swedish-speaking community entered the campaign, adopting Finnish as their language and exchanging their Swedish family names for Finnish ones. Finnish journals were founded, and Finnish became an official language in 1863. By the end of the century, there was a slight majority of Finnish-speaking students at the University of Helsinki, and Finnish-speakers made up sizable portions of the professions.
Finland's first political parties grew out of the language struggle. Those advocating full rights for Finnish-speakers formed the so-called Fennoman group that by the 1890s had split into the Old Finns and the Young Finns, the former mainly concerned with the language question, the latter urging the introduction of political liberalism. The Swedish-speaking community formed a short-lived Liberal Party. As the century drew to a close and the Fennoman movement had achieved its principal goals, economic issues and relations with the tsarist empire came to dominate politics.
Over time Finland's modernizing economy encouraged the formation of social groups with specific, and sometimes opposing, interests. In addition to the Finnish movement's Old and Young Finns, other political organizations came into being. Because the existing political groups did not adequately represent labor's interests, a workers' party was formed at the end of the century. In 1903 it became the Finnish Social Democratic Party (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue or SDP). At the same time labor was organizing itself, the farmers began a cooperative movement; in 1907 they formed the Agrarian Party (Maalaisliitto). The Swedish People's Party (Svenska Folkpartiet or SFP), also dating from this period, was formed to serve the entire Swedish-speaking population.
The Grand Duchy's relationship with St. Petersburg began to deteriorate in the 1890s. The nervousness of tsarist officials about Finnish loyalty in wartime prompted measures to bind Finland more closely to the empire. The campaign of "Russification" ended only with Finland's independence in 1917. In retrospect, the campaign can be seen as a failure, but for several decades it caused much turmoil within Finland, reaching its most extreme point with the assassination of the governor general in 1904. The first Russian revolution, that of 1905, allowed Finns to discard their antiquated Diet and to replace it with a unicameral legislature, the Eduskunta, elected through universal suffrage. Finland became the first European nation in which women had the franchise. The first national election, that of 1907, yielded Europe's largest social democratic parliamentary faction. In a single step, Finland went from being one of Europe's most politically backward countries to being one of its most advanced. Nonetheless, frequent dissolutions at the hands of the tsar permitted the Eduskunta to achieve little before independence.
Independence and the inter-war periodEdit
The second Russian revolution allowed Finland to break away from the Russian empire, and independence was declared on December 6, 1917. Within weeks, domestic political differences led to a Finnish Civil War that lasted until May 1918, when right-wing forces, with some German assistance, were able to claim victory. As a consequence, Finland began its existence as an independent state with a considerable segment of its people estranged from the holders of power, a circumstance that caused much strife in Finnish politics.
After right-wing dreams of a monarchy based on the coronation of German prince as the king of Finland came crumbling down with the German defeat in the World War, a republic was formed. In mid-1919, Finns agreed on a new Constitution, one that constructed a modern parliamentary system of government from existing political institutions and traditions. The 200-seat unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta, was retained. A cabinet, the Council of State, was fashioned from the Senate of the tsarist period. A powerful presidency, derived, in part at least, from the office of governor general, was created and provided with a mixture of powers and duties that, in other countries, might be shared by such figures as king, president, and prime minister. Also included in the new governmental system was an independent judiciary. The powers of the three branches of government were controlled through an overlapping of powers, rather than a strict separation of powers.
Finland faced numerous political and economic difficulties in the interwar years, but it surmounted them better than many other European countries. Despite the instability of many short-lived governments, the political system held together during the first decades of independence. While other countries succumbed to right-wing forces, Finland had only a brush with fascism. Communist organizations were banned, and their representatives in the Eduskunta arrested, but the SDP was able to recover from wounds sustained during the Civil War and was returned to power. In 1937 the party formed the first of the so-called Red-Earth coalitions with the Agrarian League, the most common party combination of the next fifty years, one that brought together the parties representing the two largest social groups. The language problem was largely resolved by provisions in the Constitution that protected the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority.
World War II and the Cold War periodEdit
Finland's official foreign policy of neutrality in the interwar period could not offset the strategic importance of the country's territory to Nazi Germany and to the Soviet Union. The latter was convinced that it had a defensive need to ensure that Finland would not be used as an avenue for attack on its northwestern areas, especially on Leningrad. Moreover, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had agreed in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact to divide the countries of Eastern Europe between themselves. Accordingly, the Soviet Union launched an attack of Finland in November 1939. A valiant Finnish defense slowed the invaders, but in March 1940 the Winter War ended when Finland agreed to cede to the Soviets about 10 percent of Finnish territory and to permit a Soviet military base on Finnish soil. In June 1941 Finland joined Germany as cobelligerent in its attack on the Soviet Union. In what Finns call the Continuation War, Finland confined its military actions to areas near its prewar borders. In the fall of 1944, Finland made a separate peace with the Soviet Union, one that was conditional on its ceding territory, granting basing rights, agreeing to onerous reparation payments, and expelling German forces from its territory. Nevertheless, Finland succeeded in being one of only two belligerents in Europe that stayed never occupied, independent and with its democracy intact throughout the war, the other being the United Kingdom.
By the early 1950s, the patterns of postwar Finnish politics were established. No one group was dominant, but the Agrarian League held the presidency under Urho Kekkonen for a quarter century. Kekkonen first became president in 1956, and secured a place for the conservative Agrarian League as almost a permanent governing party until the late 1980s. In 1966 it changed its name to the Center Party (Keskustapuolue or Keskusta) in an attempt to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate, but it still was not successful in penetrating southern coastal Finland. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party historically the largest party, still remained strong but it was often riven by dissension. In addition, it had to share the leftist vote with the Communist Party of Finland (Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue or SKP). As a consequence, right-wing parties never had to face a united left. In the 1980s, the communists had severe problems adjusting to new social conditions, and they split into several warring groups. As a result, their movement had a marginal position in Finnish politics. The SFP, a moderate centrist party with liberal and conservative wings, had a slightly declining number of seats in the parliament Eduskunta, but its position in the middle of the political spectrum often made it indispensable for coalition governments. The National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomuspuolue or Kokoomus), rigidly conservative in the interwar period, gradually became more moderate and grew stronger, surpassing the Center Party in the number of parliamentary seats in 1979. Excluded from a role in government for decades, possibly because it had been more right-wing earlier, the Kokoomus participated in the government formed after the national elections of 1987, supplying the prime minister, Harri Holkeri. The Liberal Party of the postwar period was never strong, and it had a negligible role by the 1980s and eventually was dissolved.
A number of smaller parties, protest parties, and parties representing quite distinct groups filled out the list of about a dozen organizations that regularly vied for public office. Pensioners and activist Christians each had their own party, and environmentalists won several seats in the 1983 and the 1987 national elections — a movement which later grew to the modern Green Party during the 1990s. The most active of the protest parties was the Finnish Rural Party (Suomen Maaseudun Puolue or SMP), which managed to take votes from both the Center Party and leftist parties. It scored its first big successes in the 1970 national elections. Since then its electoral results have varied considerably. By late 1980s, it seemed a spent force, but arose again as a populist right-wing party after changing its name to Perussuomalaiset or True Finns.
After the 1966 national elections President Kekkonen succeeded in forming a popular front coalition government that contained communists, socialists, and members of the Center Party. Although this government lasted only two years and was succeeded for another decade by short-lived coalition and caretaker civil service governments, it was the beginning of what Finns call the politics of consensus. By the 1980s, consensus politics had become so dominant that some observers claimed that Finnish politics, long so bitter and contentious, had become the most boring in Western Europe. Although the larger parties differed on specific issues, and personal rivalries could be poisonous, there was broad agreement about domestic and foreign policy. The cabinet put in place after the 1983 elections, consisting mainly of social democrats and members of the Center Party, completed its whole term of office, the first government to do so in the postwar period. This ushered in an era of relatively long lasting governments where leadership changes took place mainly through regular elections.
A foundation of the politics of consensus was the success of the system of broad incomes agreements that has characterized Finland's employee-employer relations in recent decades. The first of these, the Liinamaa Agreement, dated from 1968. By the 1980s, the process was so regular as to seem institutionalized. With about 80 percent of the work force as members, unions negotiated incomes agreements with employers' organizations. The government often helped in the talks and subsequently proposed legislation embodying social welfare measures or financial measures that underpinned the agreements. The process was successful at increasing labor peace in a country that had been racked by strikes for the first decades after World War II. Although there were complaints that the agreements bypassed political channels or excluded minority opinion, the obvious prosperity they had helped bring about made the incomes policy system and the politics of consensus highly popular.
The current version of the constitution of Finland was written on March 1, 2000. The first iteration of the constitution was adopted on July 17, 1919. The original comprised four constitutional laws and several amendments, which the latter replaced.
According to the constitution, the legislative powers are exercised by the Parliament, the governmental powers are exercised by the President of the Republic and the Government, and the judicial powers are exercised by government-independent courts of law. The Supreme Court 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 the explicit right to declare a law unconstitutional. In principle, the constitutionality of laws in Finland is verified by a simple vote by Parliament (see parliamentary sovereignty). However, the Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee reviews any doubtful bills and recommends changes, if needed. In practice, the Constitutional Law Committee fulfils 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 Government 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 are obligated to give precedence to the constitution when there is an obvious conflict between the constitution and a regular law. Such a case is, however, very rare.
Some matters are decided by the President of Finland, the Head of State, in plenary meetings with the government, echoing the constitutional history of a privy council. The President is otherwise not present in the government, but decides on issues such as personal appointments and pardons on the advice of the relevant minister. In the ministries, matters of secondary importance are decided by individual ministers, advised by the minister's State Secretary. The Prime Minister and the other ministers in the government are responsible for their actions in office to the Parliament.
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 Government) 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 Government 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).
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 government, and the same applies to matters concerning national security. The main executive power lies in the cabinet, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Before the 2000 constitutional rewrite, the President enjoyed more governing power.
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 (Government) as proposed by the Prime Minister
The Government is made up of the Prime Minister and other ministers for the various ministries of the central government as well as an ex officio member, the Chancellor of Justice. Ministers are not obliged to be members of Parliament and need not be formally identified with any political party.
The Government produces most of the material that the Parliament deals with, such as proposals for new laws or legislative reforms, and the annual budget. The ministers each direct their ministries with relative independence. The current cabinet has 17 ministers in 12 ministries. The number of ministers can be decided by the Government.
The Prime Minister’s Office and eleven other ministries make up the Government of Finland.
The head of government is the Prime Minister, currently Juha Sipilä, who has held the office since 29 May 2015. The Prime Minister designate is subject to election by the Parliament and, if elected, he or she —along with all the other ministers upon the nomination of the Prime Minister— are appointed by the President of Finland. All the ministers shall be Finnish citizens, known to be honest and competent.
The ministries function as administrative and political experts and prepare Government decisions within their mandates. They also represent their relevant administrative sectors in domestic and international cooperation.
New laws are drafted in ministries. There is a tradition of substantial ministerial independence in law drafting. The drafts are then reviewed by government and parliament before enactment. The final legislative power is vested in Parliament, in conjunction with the President of the Republic, according to the Finnish Constitution.
There are 12 ministries in Finland. As the government tends to have more ministers than ministries, some ministries, such as the Ministry of Finance, are associated with multiple ministers.
- Prime Minister's Office
- Ministry for Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Justice
- Ministry of the Interior
- Ministry of Defence
- Ministry of Finance
- Ministry of Education and Culture
- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
- Ministry of Transport and Communications
- Ministry of Employment and the Economy
- Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
- Ministry of the Environment
The 200-member unicameral Parliament of Finland (Eduskunta (Finnish), Riksdag (Swedish)). It is the supreme legislative authority in Finland. The parliament may alter the Constitution of Finland, bring about the resignation of the Government, and override presidential vetoes. Its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the Government, or one of members of Parliament, 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, 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 one of the largest parties. The Swedish People's Party represents the 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 electionsEdit
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 has 200 members, elected for a four-year term by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies. Finland has a multi-party system, with multiple 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.
Finland has a civil law system, which is based on Swedish law, with the judiciary exercising limited powers. Proceedings are inquisitorial, 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 Government, 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 has a civil law (Roman law) system with an inquisitorial procedure. In accordance with the separation of powers, the trias politica principle, courts of law are independent of other administration. They base their decisions solely on the law in force. Criminal cases, civil cases and petitionary matters are dealt in 27 district courts, and then, if the decision is not satisfactory to the involved parties, can be applied in six Courts of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Finland serves as the court of last instance. Appeals against decisions by authorities are considered in six regional administrative courts, with the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland as the court of last instance. The President appoints all professional judges for life. Municipal councils appoint lay judges to district courts.
A municipality in Finland can choose to call itself either a "city" or "municipality". A municipality is governed by a municipal council (or a city council) elected by proportional representation once every four years. 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,[when?] state local presence on mainland Finland is provided by 6 regional state administrative agencies (aluehallintovirasto, avi), and 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus, ely-keskus). Regional state 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 Åland Islands are located near the 60th parallel between Sweden and Finland. They enjoy 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.
Regional and local administrationEdit
Finland is divided between six Regional State Administrative Agencies, which are responsible for basic public services and legal permits, such as rescue services and environmental permits. The 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) are responsible for the regional implementation and development tasks of the central government.
Indirect public administrationEdit
Indirect public administration supplements and supports the authorities in managing the tasks of the welfare society. it comprises organisations which are not authorities, but which carry out public tasks or execute public powers. Examples of this are issuing hunting licences or carrying out motor vehicle inspection.
After the second world war, Paasikivi–Kekkonen doctrine was the foreign policy doctrine which aimed at Finland's survival as an independent sovereign, democratic, and capitalist country in the immediate proximity of the Soviet Union. 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.
Finland is highly dependent on foreign trade and actively participates in international cooperation. Finland is a member of the European Union, United Nations and World Bank Group and in many of their member organizations.
Finland-Russia relations have been under pressure with annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, which Finland considers illegal. Together with the rest of the European Union, Finland enforces sanctions against Russia that followed. Still, economic relations have not entirely deteriorated: 11.2% of imports to Finland are from Russia, and 5.7% of exports from Finland are to Russia, and cooperation between Finnish and Russian authorities continues.
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