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Politics of Finland

Politics of Finland takes place in a framework of a semi-presidential 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.

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", i.e. the constitutionality of a law cannot be contested.

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; Finland was the first country to give full eligibility to women. 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. According to Transparency International, Finland has had the lowest level of corruption in all the countries studied in their survey for the last several years.

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.

Constitution

The Constitution was rewritten on March 1, 2000 after first being adopted in July 17 1919. The former constitution consisted of four constitutional laws and several amendments, which the new constitution replaces. The civil law system is based on Swedish law. The Supreme Court or korkein oikeus may request legistlation 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 of the parliament 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 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.

Executive branch

Finland has a semi-presidential system with Parliamentarism. 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).

President

Main article: President of Finland

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

Main article: Cabinet of Finland

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 who is the primary representative of Finland for the EU, the president or the prime minister. The 2000 rewrite of the constitution did not address this problem. Implicitly it places EU matters under internal policy and therefore for the prime minister. On the contrary, discourse with other leaders of states constitutes implementing foreign policy, which is the president's responsibility.

An amendment has been recently added 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 asked if President Tarja Halonen represent only Finland or the entire EU when she met President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Parliament

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.

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 Diet (eduskunta/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.

Judicial system

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. Their jurisdiction can be illustrated with an example: Parents unsatisfied with the school placement of their child would appeal against the board of education in an administrative court as the school placement is subject to an administrative decision. 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.

Administrative divisions

Finland is divided to 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 decisionmaking takes place on either the municipal or national level with few exceptions.

Municipalities co-operate in subregions and regions. Moreover, the capital zone has a Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV, Pääkaupunkiseudun yhteistyövaltuuskunta).

The state organization is divided into six provinces. The 5 mainland provinces are administered by provincial boards composed of civil servants, each headed by a presidentially appointed 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 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.

Foreign relations

Main article: Foreign relations of Finland

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.

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