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Summary

Finland is a parliamentary republic.  The Parliament is unicameral with two hundred members representing thirteen geographic areas and belonging to eight different parties.  Bills are passed by a simple majority.  There are special rules for the adoption of the budget bill as well as amendments to the Constitution.  Bills are initiated by the government or members of Parliament and are considered by committees and debated in the Parliament.

I.  Background

Finland is a republic with a unicameral Parliament.[1]  The Finnish Parliament is bilingual—all work must be conducted in both Finnish and Swedish, and all material that requires a vote must be published in both Finnish and Swedish.[2]  Sessions of Parliament start on February 1 of each year.[3]

A.  Creation of Parliament

The Finnish Parliament[4] first held regular meetings in 1863, while Finland was still part of the Russian Empire.[5]  However, even while part of Sweden during the eighteenth century, Finland had a representative body similar to a parliament.

The Finnish Parliament declared itself as the highest organ of legislative power (supreme organ of State) weeks before Finland formally became independent from Russia in 1917.[6]  In 1919 the Finnish Constitution was established, which gave the Finnish Parliament power to legislate and make decisions regarding the country’s finances.[7]

B.  The Edeskunta Building

The building in which the Parliament meets is located in Helsinki (the Finnish capital) and has served as the parliamentary building since 1931.[8]  Prior to 1931, the Parliament met in the Heimola building, a building that was torn down in the 1960s.[9]  Finland’s Parliament Building is currently undergoing renovation ahead of the centennial of Finland’s independence, which will be celebrated in 2017.[10]  While the Parliament Building is undergoing renovation, the Parliament convenes at the adjacent Sibelius Academy building.[11]

C.  Political Rights Highlights

The Finnish Parliament was the first parliament in the world to welcome female elected members, which occurred during the 1907 session, after women gained both the right to vote and run for office in 1906.[12]

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II.  Constitutional Status and Role

Finland is a sovereign parliamentary republic.[13]  As such, Finland has both a President and a Prime Minister.  Parliament represents the people, legislates, and determines the state’s finances.[14]

The Constitution guarantees the municipalities a degree of independence by establishing that the governance of municipalities should be based on the principle of self-governance by its inhabitants.[15]  The powers and responsibilities of the municipalities are governed by the Municipalities Act.[16]  The municipalities are responsible for providing basic services to their inhabitants, such as health care and social services.[17]

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III.  Structure and Composition

A.  General

The Finnish Parliament is unicameral and has two hundred members who sit for four-year terms.[18]  Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected through direct, proportional, secret ballot elections.[19]   All votes carry the same weight.[20]

There are currently eight parties in the Finnish Parliament:[21] the Center Party[22] (21.1% of the national vote and forty-nine seats); the National Coalitions Party[23] (18.1%, thirty-seven seats); the Finns Party[24] (17.6%, thirty-eight seats); the Social Democratic Party of Finland[25] (16.5%, thirty-four seats); the Greens[26] (8.5%, fifteen seats); the Left Alliance[27] (7.1%, twelve seats); the Swedish People’s Party of Finland[28] (4.9%, nine seats); and the Christian Democrats of Finland[29] (3.5%, five seats).

B.  Speaker

At each session of Parliament there is one Speaker[30] and two Vice-speakers,[31] who are elected by the Parliament.[32]  The Speaker of the Finnish Parliament has the role of opening Parliament.

The responsibilities of the speakership are prescribed in law (Riksdagens arbetsordning).[33]  They include overseeing the work of the Parliament as well as it internal governance, suggesting which committee should deal with which bill and when a bill should be presented and voted on, deciding on the involvement of MPs in international cooperation, and other tasks that relate to the functioning of Parliament.[34]  The Speaker does not participate in debates or votes in Parliament.[35]

C.  Committees

There are fifteen permanent committees and an EU Commitee in Parliament.[36]  In the Constitution the following five are specifically mentioned: the Grand Commitee (twenty-five members), the Constitutional Law Commitee (seventeen members), the Foreign Affairs Committee (seventeen members), the Finance Committee (seventeen members), and the Audit Committee.[37]  The committees either have a specifically prescribed number of members, such as the Grand Committee, or eleven members if not specifically prescribed.[38]

The fifteen permanent committees are as follows:

  • Grand Committee
  • Constitutional Law Committee
  • Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Audit Committee
  • Employment and Equality Committee
  • Administration Committee
  • Legal Affairs Committee
  • Transport and Communications Committee
  • Agriculture and Forestry Committee
  • Defense Committee
  • Education and Culture Committee
  • Social Affairs and Health Committee
  • Commerce Committee
  • Committee for the Future
  • Environment Committee

Membership on a committee is based on the party’s relative representation in Parliament.[39]  Committees can make decisions when two-thirds of its members are present.[40]  Committees must be constituted immediately after the Parliament has convened for its first session.[41]  One of the committee’s members is elected chairperson and acts as chairperson for the entirety of the mandate period.[42]

The work of the committees is regulated in the Parliamentary Working Order Act.[43] 

D.  Prime Minister

Parliament elects the Prime Minister, who is typically the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament, after a nomination by the President.[44]  There is no debate prior to the vote on Prime Minister.[45]

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IV.  Elections

A.  General

Finland holds two separate elections—one for President and one to elect MPs.  The date of the election for the Finnish Parliament is set in law as the third Sunday in April, every four years.[46]  The next ordinary scheduled election for the Finnish Parliament is April 21, 2019.[47]  There are no restrictions on how many terms an MP may serve. 

Election for President is completely separate and by law is held on the fourth Sunday of January every six years.[48]  A President may only serve two terms in succession.[49]

B.  Electoral Districts

The Constitution provides that Finland may have between twelve and eighteen electoral districts, not counting Åland,[50] which forms its own electoral district.[51]  There is currently a total of thirteen electoral districts.[52]

The number of seats in each district is determined based on the number of Finnish citizens who are domiciled in the district as calculated on the last day of the sixth month preceding election day (generally October 31).[53]  The number of Finnish citizens in the district are divided by the total number of citizens in the country, then multiplied by 199.[54]  If a seat remains unclaimed following this calculation it will be given to the party with the largest decimal according to its result in the national election—i.e., a party with 4.9 votes will receive a seat prior to a party with 45.8 votes.[55]  

C.  Voter Turnout

Voter turnout has been consistently high in Finland.  It was 70.7% in the first election with universal suffrage for men and women in 1907,[56] and 70.1% in the most recent election.[57]

D.  Formation of Government

The leadership of the executive branch of government is constituted upon the election of a Prime Minister following a nomination by the President.[58] Ministers (Heads) of the government ministries are chosen by the Prime Minister, or if there is a coalition government through agreement between the coalition parties, prior to the formal election of Prime Minister.[59]  Ministers do not need to be MPs.[60]

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V.  Legislative Process

The parliamentary legislative process is governed by the Riksdagens arbetsordning (Parliamentary Working Order).[61]

A.  Ordinary Bills

Most of the legislative work is done in the ministries and committees.[62]  Bills are initiated either through proposals by the government or by individual MPs.[63]  Citizens’ initiatives may also be brought forward, if backed by the signatures of at least 50,000 Finns.[64]  After a proposal has been sent to the Central Office (Centralkansliet) in Parliament it must then be discussed by a committee, which can hears experts, before it is presented before Parliament.[65] Prior to a vote MPs may also debate the bill.[66]

The passage of a bill only requires a simple majority.  If there are an equal number of votes for and against, a random drawing of yes and no votes is permitted and if the drawing is in favor of adopting the bill it will pass.[67]

B.  Budget Bill

The budget bill is drafted and presented to the Parliament by the Government.  The bill only requires a simple majority to pass.  The budget expenses as well as the overarching appropriations are addressed in a separate regulation.[68]

After the Finance Committee has published its report the Government’s budget bill is presented to Parliament in plenum.[69]  Opposition parties or individual MPs may only present an alternative budget during a ten-day period after the Government’s budget bill has been presented.[70]  If Parliament does not approve the budget bill without changes, the Finance Committee continues its work and suggests changes to the bill.  If a budget is not approved before the new fiscal year, the Finance Committee must suggest how the budget proposal should temporarily be used as a governing budget.[71]  Changes to the budget are adopted in the same manner as adoption of the budget itself.[72]

C.  Changes to the Constitution

Changes to the Constitution require a two-thirds majority in two sessions, each held with a parliamentary election in between.[73]

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
January 2016


[1] 1 and 2 §§ Finlands grundlag [Finnish Constitution] (Finlands författningssamling [FFS] 11.6.1999/731), http://www.finlex.fi/sv/laki/ajantasa/1999/19990731?search[type]=pika&search[pika]=grundlag (in Swedish), archived at http://perma.cc/L8GS-MK8V, and http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/ajantasa/1999/19990731 (in Finnish), archived at http://perma.cc/X7XA-GH75

[2] 51 § Constitution.

[3] 1 § Riksdagens arbetsordning [Parliamentary Working Order](FFS 17.12.1999/40 år 2000), http://www.finlex.fi/sv/laki/ajantasa/2000/ 20000040, archived at http://perma.cc/QP8D-ZBX9.

[4] Edeskunta in Finnish, Riksdag in Swedish.

[5] Brief History of Parliament – From Autonomy to EU Finland, Eduskunta/Riksdagen, https://www.eduskunta.fi/ EN/tietoaeduskunnasta/historia/Pages/default.aspx (last visited Dec. 4, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/S4QS-8WPN.

[6] Id.

[7] 3 § Constitution.

[8] Parliament of Finland, Democracy’s Long Road: Finland’s Representative Democracy and Civil Society from 1863 to the Present Day 13 (May 2013), https://www.eduskunta.fi/FI/tietoaeduskunnasta/ esitemateriaalit/Documents/2013_Eduskunta_1863_Kansanvallan_pitka_tie_ENG_LORES300413[1].pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/UEH5-E92F.

[10] Id. at 23.

[11] Renovation of Parliament’s Properties, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, https://www.eduskunta.fi/EN/tietoaedus kunnasta/peruskorjaus/Pages/default.aspx (last visited Nov. 16, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/RZ9X-4UPV.

[12] Centenary of Women’s Full Political Rights in Finland, Helsinki.fi, http://www.helsinki.fi/sukupuolentutkimus/ aanioikeus/en (last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/LCB6-QSQM.

[13] 1:1 § Constitution.

[14] Id. 1:3 §.  

[15] Id. 121 §. 

[17] Kommunerna och kommunalförvaltning, suomi.fi, http://www.suomi.fi/suomifi/svenska/staten_och_ kommunerna/kommunerna_och_kommunalforvaltning/index.html?sort=2 (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/5HH8-XAMQ.   

[18] 24 § Constitution.  

[19] Id. 25 §.  

[20] Id.

[21] Centern i Finland segrade i riksdagsvalet 2015, Statistikcentralen Finland (Apr. 30, 2015), http://www.stat.fi/til/evaa/2015/evaa_2015_2015-04-21_tie_001_sv.html, archived at http://perma.cc/M5C8-RS8Q.

[22] Keskusta, http://www.keskusta.fi/ (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/Y66F-MQS2.

[23] Kokoomus, https://www.kokoomus.fi/en/ (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/6M7K-GAKF.

[24] Perus, http://www.perussuomalaiset.fi (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/9EBW-XL69.

[25] SDP, http://www.sdp.fi (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/7M6T-LP2E.

[26] Welcome!, Vihreat, https://www.vihreat.fi/vihreat-de-grona-greens-finland (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/8YDR-ZMZ4 (click “Screen capture”).

[27] Vasemmisto, http://www.vasemmisto.fi (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/2A8L-5MB8.

[28] SFP, http://www.sfp.fi (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/54B4-N33V.

[29] Kristillisdemokraatit, http://www.kd.fi/english (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/GZG2-9KC4.

[30] Riksdagens arbete leds av presidiet, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, https://www.eduskunta.fi/SV/kansanedustajat/ puhemies/Sidor/default.aspx (in Swedish; last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/FWB9-ZSSH.

[31] 34 § Constitution.

[32] 4 § Riksdagens arbetsordning.

[33] Id. 6 §.

[34] Id.

[35] 42 § Constitution.

[36] Committees, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, https://www.eduskunta.fi/EN/lakiensaataminen/valiokunnat/Pages/ default.aspx (last visited Dec. 14, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/8ZSW-ERX3.

[37] 35 § Constitution.

[38] Id.

[39] Committees, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, supra note 37.

[40] Id.

[41] 17 § Riksdagens arbetsordning.

[42] Id.

[43] Id. 7 §.

[44] Id. 65 §.

[45] Id.

[46] 107 § Election Act.

[47] 54 § Constitution; 127 § Vallag [Election Act] FFS 2.10.1998/714, https://www.finlex.fi/sv/laki/ajantasa/ 1998/19980714?search%5Btype%5D=pika&search%5Bpika%5D=vallag, archived at https://perma.cc/DN25-5ZUT.

[48] 54 § Constitution.

[49] Id.

[50] Åland is a Swedish-speaking island in the Baltic Sea that has some autonomy in relation to Finland.  For details see Åland’s Autonomy, Aland.ax, The Official Åland Website (Aug. 26, 2013), http://www.aland.ax/en/fakta/ sjalvstyrelsen, archived at https://perma.cc/9CPB-FQH8.

[51] 25 § Constitution

[52] 5 § Election Act.

[533] Id. 6 §.

[54] Id.

[55] Id.

[56] Commitees, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, supra note 37.

[57] Voter Turnout, Tulpospalvelu, http://tulospalvelu.vaalit.fi/E-2015/en/aanestys1.html (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/28DJ-7QGN.  

[58] 65 § Riksdagens arbetsordning.

[59] Appointment and Organization, Finnish Government, http://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/government/appointment-and-organisation (last visited Jan. 11, 2016) archived at https://perma.cc/UYC8-JGFU.  

[60] Id. (the only requirement is Finnish citizenship).

[61] 52 § Constitution.

[62] See Legislative Drafting Process Guide,Finlex,http://lainvalmistelu.finlex.fi/en (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at http://perma.cc/LP9R-WC33.

[63] 39 § Constitution.

[64] Riksdagen stiftar lagar – så här blir en lag till, Edeskunta/Riksdagen, https://www.eduskunta.fi/SV/ lakiensaataminen/lainvalmistelu_vaiheet/Sidor/default.aspx (last visited Dec. 3, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/3XH8-5TA6.

[65] 40 § Constitution.

[66] 50 § Riksdagens arbetsordning.

[67] Id. 41 §.

[68] Förordning om statsbudgeten [Regulation on the State Budget] (FFS 11.12.1992/1243), http://www.finlex.fi/ sv/laki/ajantasa/1992/19921243?search[type]=pika&search[pika]=budget, archived at http://perma.cc/LE8K-HBKH.

[69] 59 § Riksdagens arbetsordningen.

[70] Id. 20 §.

[71] Id. 59 §.  

[72] Id.

[73] 73 § Constitution.

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Last Updated: 02/12/2016