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World > Europe > Finland > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Finland - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Finland has a mixed presidential/parliamentary system with executive powers divided between the president, who has primary responsibility for national security and foreign affairs, and the prime minister, who has primary responsibility for all other areas, including EU issues. Under the constitution that took effect in March 2000, the established practice for managing foreign policy is that the president keeps in close touch with the prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs, and other ministers responsible for foreign relations. Constitutional changes strengthened the prime minister--who must enjoy the confidence of the parliament (Eduskunta)--at the expense of the president. Finns enjoy individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal at 18. The country's population is relatively ethnically homogeneous. Immigration to Finland has significantly increased over the past decade, although the foreign-born population, estimated at only 2.2% of the total population, is still much lower than in any other EU country. Few tensions exist between the Finnish-speaking majority and the Swedish-speaking minority.

President and cabinet. Elected for a 6-year term, the president: Handles foreign policy, except for certain international agreements and decisions of peace or war, which must be submitted to parliament, and EU relations, which are handled by the prime minister; Is commander in chief of the armed forces and has wide decree and appointive powers; May initiate legislation, block legislation by pocket veto, and call extraordinary parliamentary sessions; and Appoints the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet (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 and need not be formally identified with any political party. The president may, upon proposal of the prime minister and after having heard the parliamentary groups, order parliament to be dissolved, and a new election held.

Parliament. Constitutionally, the 200-member, unicameral Eduskunta is the supreme authority in Finland. It may alter the constitution, 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 president, the Council of State, or one of the Eduskunta members.

The Eduskunta is elected on the basis of proportional representation. All 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 4 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.

Judicial system. The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with responsibility for litigation between the public and the administrative organs of the state. Finnish law is codified. Although there is no writ of habeas corpus or bail, the maximum period of pretrial detention has been reduced to 4 days. The Finnish court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, a Supreme Court, and a Supreme Administrative Court.

Administrative divisions. Finland has five provinces and the self-ruled province of the Aland Islands. Below the provincial level, the country is divided into cities, townships, and communes administered by municipal and communal councils elected by proportional representation once every 4 years. At the provincial level, the five mainland provinces are administered by provincial boards composed of civil servants, each headed by a governor. The boards are responsible to the Ministry of the Interior and play a supervisory and coordinating role within the provinces.

The island province of Aland is located near the 60th parallel between Sweden and Finland. It enjoys local autonomy and demilitarized status by virtue of an international convention of 1921, implemented most recently by the Act on Aland 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 Aland's citizens.

Military. Finland's defense forces consist of 35,000 persons in uniform (26,000 army; 5,000 navy; and 4,000 air force); the country's defense budget equals about 1.3% of GDP. There is universal male conscription under which all men serve from six to 12 months. As of 1995, women were permitted to serve as volunteers. A reserve force ensures that Finland can field 490,000 trained military personnel in case of need.

Political parties. Finland's proportional representation system encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many coalition governments. Currently, there are eight parties represented in parliament. The Center Party (Keskusta), the Conservative Party (Kokoomus), the Swedish People?s Party (RKP), and the Greens form the current four-party, center-right coalition. Other parties in parliament include the Social Democrats (SDP), the Christian Democrats (KD), the Left Alliance (LA), and the True Finns (PS). Three major parties--Center, Conservative, and SDP--have dominated the postwar political arena, although none has achieved an outright parliamentary majority position in recent decades.

In the 2007 general elections, the Center Party, traditionally representing rural interests, remained the largest political party; it won 23.1% of the votes but lost four of its 55 seats in the 200-member parliament. The Conservatives made momentous gains, coming in second with 22.3% and increasing their number of seats from 40 to 50. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) received 21.4% of the votes but lost eight seats; it now holds 45. The Swedish People?s Party--which traditionally advocates on behalf of the small Swedish-speaking minority in Finland--and the Greens each made gains, increasing their number of seats by one to 10 and 15, respectively. The Left Alliance (former Communist party) holds 17 seats, the Christian Democrats 7, and the True Finns 5.

Principal Government Officials
President--Tarja Halonen
Prime Minister--Matti Vanhanen
Foreign Minister--Ilkka Kanerva
Ambassador to the United States--Pekka Lintu
Ambassador to the United Nations--Kirsti Lintonen

Finland's embassy in the United States is located at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-298-5800; fax: 202-298-6030.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Euro Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Euro Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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