Category Archives: Finland


Finland – Presidential vetoes and the presidential election

This post follows on from previous ones about presidential vetoes in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia.

In Finland, the president has the power of a suspensive veto. Basically, his veto can be overridden by parliament as normal. Interestingly, whereas in the other countries I have posted about the president has been quite active in using the veto, in Finland this is not the case. In fact, since the introduction of the new constitution in 2000 there have been no presidential vetoes.

The fact that there have been no vetoes is all the more interesting because there was a period of cohabitation in Finland from April 2007 to June 2011. This is the time when we would expect vetoes to be used.

In her book, Presidents with Prime Ministers, Margit Tavits provides an explanation (p. 41). She says that the Finnish president has more influence in foreign affairs and that this domain is less susceptible to the use of the veto. So, the absence of a veto is not a sign of inactivity, she argues. It is just that the president is active in a different domain from one that is captured by veto power.

In a separate development, Helsinki Times is reporting that Timo Soini, the leader of the Finns party (previously the True Finns), has declared that he will stand for the presidency next year. The True Finns were very nearly the largest party at the legislative election earlier this year. So, he stands a chance of winning through to the second ballot. However, given Soini is a controversial figure, then his chances of being elected are perhaps small. That said, his presence will mean that campaigning in the election will be robust.

Guest post – Tapio Raunio on Finland

Finland: constitutional reforms would further reduce president’s powers

The unicameral Finnish parliament, Eduskunta, is currently debating a bill for constitutional reform that would further reduce the powers of the president. The bill was already approved by a simple majority in the Eduskunta before the parliamentary elections held in April 2011, but a 2/3rds majority is now required for the bill to be passed. While it is likely that this majority threshold will be met, the reforms have also met serious opposition. The issue is particularly difficult for the Social Democrats. The incumbent president, Tarja Halonen, is from their ranks and she has been vehemently opposed to the reforms. However, the SDP is now the second largest party in the ‘six pack’ government and are thus in favour of the reforms. The largest opposition party, the populist Finns (previously known as the True Finns), are against the constitutional amendments, while the position of the other opposition party, the Centre, is unclear. Also, public opinion surveys show that the citizens prefer keeping the powers of the president intact – or would even like to see the president given more powers in Finnish politics.

The objective of the constitutional amendments is to further strengthen parliamentarism at the expense of presidential powers. Finland was until the 1990s a president-led polity, but the current constitution, in force since 2000, completed a period of far-reaching constitutional change that curtailed presidential powers and parliamentarised the Finnish political system. However, the political elite has overall been somewhat unhappy with the constitution, arguing in particular that it contains many articles which can result in unnecessary frictions between the government, the Eduskunta, and the president. Hence, the political system should be simplified by consolidating the powers of the parliament and the cabinet.

The planned reform would not bring about substantial changes to the president’s role. Foreign policy would continue to be directed by the president in cooperation with the government, but EU matters would be even more firmly the domain of the cabinet as the prime minister would represent Finland in the European Council and in other EU meetings where the political leaders of the member states are represented (such as informal meetings between the leaders of member states and summits between the EU and third countries). However, to the extent that this is possible within the EU framework, the government could in exceptional circumstances decide that also the president represents Finland in EU meetings. The presence of both the prime minister and the president would, so the argument goes, indicate that the issue is of particular salience to Finland and would also strengthen Finland’s bargaining position. This change is naturally linked to the Lisbon Treaty, as after it entered into force each country is represented in the European Council by either its prime minister or the head of state.

There would also be a new conflict-resolution mechanism. According to the planned reforms the position of the Eduskunta would be decisive in cases of disagreements between the president and the government. But this mechanism would only apply to a small share of foreign policy matters, basically those necessitating formal decision-making such as the domestic ratification of certain international agreements.

Turning to domestic matters, the president would retain her suspensive veto in legislation (the president has three months to confirm a law approved by Eduskunta but the latter can override president’s potential veto). But whereas under the current constitution the president formally determines that a bill shall be introduced in the Eduskunta, in the future the government would be responsible for initiating the parliamentary processing of legislation. This change is logical as the involvement of the president is purely symbolic given that she cannot prevent cabinet’s legislative proposals from being introduced in the parliament. Finally, the president’s appointment powers would also be further reduced – a change motivated no doubt by the fact that president Halonen has several times vetoed government’s proposals, appointing instead persons of her own choice to leading civil service positions. Most significantly, the president would no longer appoint permanent secretaries who are the leading civil servants in the ministries.

In addition to these changes concerning the president, the reform would strengthen direct democracy by introducing the citizens’ initiative (at least 50,000 signatures would be needed to submit an initiative for a new law to the Eduskunta). Also Finland’s EU membership would now be explicitly recognized in the constitution.

The Eduskunta will decide on the amendments in the next few months as they are intended to enter into force when the new president (elections are held in January) starts her or his tenure in office – either on February 1 (if second round is not needed in the elections) or on March 1, 2012.

Tapio Raunio, University of Tampere (

Finland – Weak parliament

Helsinki Times is reporting a study by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy and the University of Eastern Finland showing that the Finnish parliament is quite weak.

Apart from confirming that parliament has brought down the government by a vote of no-confidence only four times since 1919 and the last being in 1958, the report shows that more than half of all government proposals go through parliamentary select committees without any changes being made. In other words, even members of the ruling coalition have very little influence over legislation.

For more on the Finnish parliament, see Tapio Raunio, ‘Finland: Moving in the Opposite Direction’, Torbjörn Bergman and Kaare Strøm (eds.), The Madisonian Turn: Political Parties and Parliamentary Democracy in Nordic Europe, 2011, University of Michigan.

Finland – New government

Almost two months after the legislative election, Finland has a new government. The leader of the National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus – Kok), Jyrki Katainen, is the prime minister-designate.

According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE, via parlgov, there will be 19 ministers. There will be six ministers for each of the National Coalition Party and the Social Democratic party, two ministers from each of the Left Alliance, the Swedish People’s Party and the Green League and one minister from the Christian Democratic Party. This would give the government the support of 125/200 seats in parliament. The True Finns and the Centre party are the main opposition parties.

The Left Alliance is split on the decision to join the government and YLE reports that two deputies will vote against the government at the investiture vote.

Finland – Legislative election

Finland held its parliamentary election on Sunday. The turnout was 70.4%. Here is the result:

National Coalition Party, 20.4%, 44 seats (-6)
Social Democratic Party, 19.1%, 42 seats (-3)
True Finns, 19.0%, 39 seats (+34)
Centre Party, 15.8%, 35 seats (-16)
Left Alliance, 8.1%, 14 seats (-3)
Green League, 7.2%, 10 seats (-5)
Christian Democrats, 4.0%, 6 seats (-1)
Swedish People’s Party, 4.3%, 9 seats (no change)
Åland, 1 seat (no change)

The incumbent PM is Mari Kiviniemi from the Centre Party. The Centre Party is in coalition with the National Coalition Party, the Swedish People’s Party and the Green League. The Centre Party is the big loser in the election.

By contrast, the big winner, as expected, is the True Finns party, a national populist party. That said, it is possible that it will not be in government, because its views are seen as being too extreme.

The other winner was the National Coalition Party, which became the largest party in the country for the first time ever. This means that the party leader, Jyrki Katainen, is likely to be given the first chance to form a government. There is some talk of a ‘grand’ coalition with the Social Democratic Party. However, this would be a minority administration.

Finland – Government wins confidence vote

Helsinki Times is reporting that the government has won a vote of confidence.

The government was interpellated by the opposition Left Alliance party and the interpellation was supported by the other opposition parties, mainly the Social Democrats. The issue was the government’s handling of the economy, particularly unemployment. In the end, 105 deputies supported the government and 67 opposed with 27 absent.

In June the new government also faced a vote of confidence on its programme. That time, 118 deputies supported the new prime minister and 66 opposed.

Finland – PM takes office

The new Prime Minister of Finland, Mari Kiviniemi, has taken office. Helsinki Times reports that she was approved by 115 votes to 56 with four deputies declining to vote and 24 absent. In a subsequent vote, her government was approved by 118 votes to 66.

The party composition of the government remains the same: Centre Party (Kesk) 8 ministers, National Coalition Party (Kok) 8 ministers, Swedish People’s Party 2 ministers, and Green League 2 ministers.

There is an absolutely wonderful government website that gives the party composition, names of ministers, etc, in English for every Finnish government since 1917. The site is available here.

Finland – New PM chosen

In January the Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, announced that he would not seek another term as the leader of the Finnish Centre Party. (See previous post). Subsequently, he announced that he would step down as prime minister on 18 June, immediately after the Centre Party’s conference at which the new party leader would be chosen.

The Centre Party chose its new leader last weekend. Helsinki Times reports that Mari Kiviniemi, currently the Minister for Public Administration and Local Government, was elected at the second ballot, winning 1,357 votes against 1,035 votes for the other candidate, Mauri Pekkarinen, the Minister for Economic Affairs. At the first ballot she won 46% and Pekkarinen won 32% ahead of two other candidates, Tuomo Puumala and Annika Saarikko, who won 12% and 10% respectively.

Finland currently has a four-party coalition headed by the Centre Party and including the National Coalition, the Green League, and the Swedish People’s Party. Helsingen Sanomat is not expecting a major reshuffle when Kiviniemi takes office later this week.

Finland – PM will not lead party into next election

The Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, has announced that he will not seek another term as the leader of the Finnish Centre Party when its conference is held next June. According to Helsinki Times, Vanhanen said that he faced surgery on his leg in autumn 2010 and that with the recovery time required he would not be in a position to act as PM and party leader in the run up to the 2011 general election. It might also be noted that Vanhanen has been facing some difficult opinion poll ratings recently.

This decision raises issues as to who will be the next PM and when. In theory, Vanhanen could resign as PM as soon as the Centre Party has chosen its new leader. That person would then most likely be proposed as the new head of government and approved by the existing majority in the Eduskunta (parliament). However, it is possible that the other main government party, the National Coalition Party, may want the position of PM for itself. To complicate matters, though, Vanhanen could decide to continue as PM until the 2011 election and he hinted at this scenario in his original announcement. In a subsequent statement, though, Vanhanen implied that the first scenario is the most likely.

According to a poll reported in Helsinki Times, Paula Lehtomäki, the Minister of the Environment, is the most popular choice as the new head of the Centre Party.

Finland – Constitutional Committee report delayed

In a previous post by David Arter there was a report on the spat between the president and the prime minister in Finland over the constitutionality of the president’s involvement in foreign affairs, specifically European affairs. Anyway, the issue is ongoing.

A committee to make recommendations on the issue was set up. Helsinki Times reports that it is chaired by Christoffer Taxell, a former minister. There are 11 people on the committee, two from each of the three largest parties (social democrats, the conservatives and the centrists) and one each from five smaller parties.

The committee was due to report by Christmas, but the deadline has now been extended to the end of January.

The issue is the so-called ‘two-plates’ problem, i.e. the notion that Finland has two plates at European Council dinners – one for the president and one for the prime minister. At the most recent European Council meeting last week President Halonen did not attend. Apparently, Herman Van Rompuy, the new President of the European Council, wants only one representative per country from now on.

There is the distinct possibility that the committee will recommend that the president’s powers should be further reduced, not merely with regard to foreign affairs but generally.

Whether or not it is significant I am not sure, but Christoffer Taxell’s name has been bandied around as a possible presidential candidate in 2012. That said, Sauli Niinistö of KOK (National Coalition Party), who is currently the Speaker of the Eduskunta (parliament), seems to be the favourite candidate at the moment. In 2006 he was narrowly defeated at the second ballot by President Halonen. He does not favour a weaker presidency.