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.
The current direct voting system was adopted in 1994. In a way, the popular mandate grates against an amended constitution that diminishes the prerogatives of the president. The Finns tend to see their president as a kind of surrogate monarch who stays above the fray and keeps bickering politicians in check. Under a slightly rewritten constitution that enters into force simultaneously with the presidentís inauguration in 2012, foreign and security policy is still directed by the president, in cooperation with the government.
In Finnish parlance, this formulation means that bilateral relations with Russia, the US, China and other non-EU countries remain part of the presidentís domain, as does interaction with international organisations such as the UN. In the amended constitution, presidential powers are somewhat reduced, even in foreign and security policy. If the president and the government do not concur on an issue, the government has the right to present it to Parliament for a vote. Thus, with parliamentary blessing, the government can override a presidential veto. In practice, an extraordinary situation like this is unlikely to occur.
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.
Under the Constitution, legislative power is exercised by Parliament. Legislation there is initiated either by a Government bill or through a legislative motion tabled by a Member or several Members of Parliament; a motion of this kind can be introduced only when Parliament is in session. The President issues Government bills and can also recall them. Parliament determines the final content of all acts; in other words, it can amend or reject Government bills.
Government bills are drafted by the relevant ministry. A draft is first approved by the cabinet and then submitted to the President. The President decides on the issuance of the draft bill in the Presidential sessions of the Government. If the President does not approve the draft bill, he or she can return it for redrafting. On the second reading the President has to issue the bill on the basis of the cabinet's new draft. The same procedure is followed in relation to recalling a Government bill.
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.
Finland consists of 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.
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