The 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" - the constitutionality of a law can be contested only as applied to an individual court case.
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; Finnish women became the first in the world to have unrestricted rights both to vote and to stand for parliament.
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.
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.
The Constitution was rewritten on March 1, 2000 after first being adopted on 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 (Finnish: korkein oikeus (KKO), Swedish: högsta domstolen) 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 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 (Finnish: perustuslakivaliokunta, Swedish: grundlagsutskottet) of the parliament reviews any doubtful bills and recommends changes, if needed. In practice, the Constitutional Law Committee fulfills 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.
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 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).
Elected for a six year term, the president:
Handles Finland's foreign affairs in cooperation with the Cabinet, except for certaininternational 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
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 as to whether the president or the prime minister is the primary representative of Finland to the EU.
The 2000 rewrite of the constitution did not address this problem. Implicitly it places EU matters under domestic policy and therefore in the prime ministers domain. At the same time, discourse with other leaders of state constitutes exercising of foreign policy, which is the president's responsibility.
An amendment has recently been made 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 questioned whether President Tarja Halonen represented only Finland or the entire EU when she met with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
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.
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). 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 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 Parliament (Finnish: eduskunta, Swedish: 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.