Parliament of Finland: Wikis

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Suomen Eduskunta
Finlands Riksdag
Coat of arms or logo.
Type
Type Unicameral parliament
Leadership
Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö, (kok.)
since March 18, 2007
Structure
Members 200
Political groups Centre Party, National Coalition Party, Social Democratic Party of Finland, Left Alliance, Green League, Christian Democrats, Swedish People's Party, True Finns
Election
Last election March 18, 2007
Meeting place
Istuntosali.jpg
Eduskuntatalo, Helsinki
Website
www.eduskunta.fi

The Eduskunta (in Finnish), or the Riksdag (in Swedish), is the Parliament of Finland. The unicameral parliament has 200 members and meets in Parliament House (Eduskuntatalo; Riksdagshuset) in Helsinki.

Contents

Constitution

Republic of Finland

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
Finland



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Under the Constitution of Finland, the 200-member unicameral Parliament exercises supreme decision-making authority in Finland. Sovereignty belongs to the people and that power is vested in the Parliament. It passes legislation, decides on the state budget, approves international treaties and supervises the activities of the Government. 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 Council of State, or one of the members of the Eduskunta. To make changes to the Constitution, amendments must be approved twice by the Eduskunta, in two successive electoral periods with a general election held in between.

Members enjoy parliamentary immunity: without the Parliament's approval, members may not be prosecuted for anything they say in session or otherwise do in the course of parliamentary proceedings, or be arrested or detained except for serious offences.

Parliamentary elections

The Eduskunta's 200 Representatives are elected directly by secret ballot on the basis of proportional representation. The electoral period is four years. Elections previously took two days but now are conducted on one day, the third Sunday in March.

Every citizen who is at least 18 years of age and is registered to vote by the election date is entitled to vote in general elections and with certain exceptions, such as military personnel on active duty and high judicial officials, can also stand for Parliament. Candidates are selected by party referendums or electoral organizations.

For the purpose of Parliamentary elections, Finland is divided into 16 electoral districts. The number of Representatives returned by each district depends on the population. Åland is an exception in that it always returns one Representative. The provincial state offices appoint an election board in each electoral district to prepare lists of candidates and to approve the election results. The Ministry of Justice is ultimately responsible for elections.

In each electoral district the total number of votes for each party, electoral alliance or joint list is reckoned and the candidate with the most votes in the party, electoral alliance or joint list is assigned this number as a reference figure. The figure for the candidate who comes in second is half the total, the figure for the candidate who comes in next is a third of the total etc. (This is known as the d'Hondt method). The final order of all the candidates in the district is thus determined on the basis of reference figures. Finland does not have an election threshold, nor does it provide for votes to be given to a party rather than an individual.

The President of Finland can call for an early election upon the proposal of the Prime Minister, after consultations with the parliamentary groups while Parliament is in session. This was formerly a not uncommon occurrence, particularly during the presidency of Urho Kekkonen, but since 1975, early elections have not been called and governments have regularly sat for whole electoral periods.

Although there is no set election threshold, many electoral districts have lost population in recent decades, and some now elect as few as six representatives, which in turn can create an effective threshold in those districts greater than 10 per cent (for unallied parties it can be 14.3%), favouring major parties (the biggest district, Uusimaa, elects 34 representatives, with a threshold close to 2.5%). This problem has been quite widely recognized and discussed, and numerous committees have been set up to review options for a reform of the electoral system, but no general agreement on measures has been reached. [2] [3] [4] [5]

Formation of a Government

The President consults the Speaker of Parliament and with representatives of the parliamentary groups about the formation of a new Council of State (Government). According to the constitution, the Eduskunta elects the Prime Minister, who is appointed to office by the President. Other ministers are appointed by the President on the Prime Minister’s proposal.

Before the Prime Minister is elected, the parliamentary groups negotiate on the political programme and composition of the Council of State. On the basis of the outcome of these negotiations, and after having consulted the Speaker of the Eduskunta and the parliamentary groups, the President informs the Eduskunta of the nominee for Prime Minister. The nominee is elected Prime Minister if this is supported by a majority of votes in the Eduskunta.

Sessions

The annual session of Parliament generally begins in February and consists of two terms, the first from January until June, the second from September to December. At the start of an annual session, the nation’s political leaders and their guests attend a special worship service at Helsinki Cathedral, before the ceremonies continue at Parliament House, where the President formally opens the session.

On the first day of each annual session, the Eduskunta selects a Speaker and two Deputy Speakers from among its members. This election is chaired by the senior member in terms of age. The members who are elected to serve as Speaker and First and Second Deputy Speaker take the following solemn oath before Parliament;

"I,..., affirm that in my office as Speaker I will to the best of my ability defend the rights of the people, Parliament and the government of Finland according to the Constitution."

At the beginning of each electoral term, committees are appointed to prepare matters. There are 15 specialized committees with circa 15 members each and a Grand Committee with 25 members. Usually, each specialized committee is responsible for matters belonging to a single branch of state administration. However, the Constitutional Committee has special responsibilities.

Each annual session of Parliament elects Finland’s delegations to the Nordic Council and the Council of Europe. The parliament also elects five of its members to the bench of the High Court of Impeachment for the parliamentary term.

Proceedings

Parliament building in Helsinki
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Legislation

Most of the bills discussed in the parliament originate in the Government. However, any member or group of members may introduce a bill but usually, these will not pass the committee phase. Any bill introduced by the government or by a member will be initially discussed in the parliament and after that, sent to the respective committee. If the bill concerns several areas of legislation, the primary committee will first ask the other committees for opinions. If there is any concern about the constitutionality of the bill, the opinion of the Constitutional Committee is always asked. The Constitutional Committee works in non-partisan manner and uses the most distinguished legal scholars as experts. If the committee considers the bill to have unconstitutional elements, the bill must either be passed as a constitutional change or changed to be in concordance with the constitution. In most cases, the latter route is chosen.

The bills receive their final form in the parliamentary committees. The committees work behind closed doors but their proceedings are publicized afterwards. Usually the committees hear experts from special interest groups and different authorities after which they formulate the necessary changes to the bill in question. If the committee does not agree, the members in minority may submit their own version of the bill.

The committee statement is discussed by the parliament in two consecutive sessions. In the first session, the parliament discusses the bill and prepares its final form. In the first part of handling, a general discussion of the bill is undertaken. After this, the parliament discusses individual points of the bill and chooses between the bill proposed by the committee, minority opinions and the eventual other forms the members submit during the discussion. If the parliament wishes to do so, it may during the general discussion of the first handling submit the bill to the Grand Committee for further formulation. The bill is also always treated by the Grand Committee if the parliament decides to adopt any other form than the final opinion of the committee. The committee then formulates its own version of the bill and submits this to the parliament which then adopts either its former version or the version of the Grand Committee.

In the second session, the final formulation of the bill is either passed or dismissed. If the bill entails a change in constitution, the second session takes place only after the next election unless the parliament decides to declare the matter to be urgent by a majority of five sixths. In constitutional matters, the bills are passed by a majority of two thirds. In other cases, the simple majority of votes given is enough.

International treaties requiring changes to legislation are accepted by a simple majority in a single session. Treaties requiring changes to the constitution or changing the borders of Finland require a qualified majority of two thirds.

European Union affairs

As a member of European Union, Finland has delegated much of its sovereignty to the Union. The matters belonging to the jurisdiction to the European Union are decided by the Council of the European Union and in some cases, by the European Parliament. However, while changes to the European legislation are under preparation, the Finnish Parliament participates actively in formulating the Finnish opinion.

The European Union matters handled by the Parliament usually become public after committee meetings, as the proceedings of the committees are public. However, if the case requires, the government may ask the Parliament for a secret handling of an EU matter. This is especially the case if the government does not want to reveal its position in the negotiations beforehand.

The EU-legislation under preparation is brought to the Grand Committee of the Finnish Parliament by the Finnish government when Finland has received notice of the proposal from the European Commission. The Grand Committee discusses the matter in camera, and if appropriate, requests opinions from the specialized committees of the Parliament. Both the Grand Committee and the specialized committees hear expert opinions while preparing their opinions. Finally, the Grand Committee formulates the Finnish opinion to the proposal. However, as an exception to the general rule, in matters concerning the external relations of the Union, the Finnish stance is formulated by the Committee for Foreign and Security Policy, instead of the Grand Committee.

The Finnish government is obligated by law to follow the parliamentary opinion when discussing the matter with the Commission and other member states. However, if the situation requires, the government may change the Finnish stance, but it is required to report such changes to the Parliament immediately.

After the European union has made a legislative decision which must be implemented in Finland by an Act of Parliament, the matter is brought back to the Parliament as with usual legislation. However, in such case, the Finnish state is already obligated to pass a law fulfilling certain requirements, so the hands of the Parliament are no longer free. Thus, the key stage in the parliamentary handling of EU legislation is the Grand Committee phase during the preparatory stage.[1]

Other matters

Every member of parliament has the right to ask the government written questions. The questions are answered in writing within 21 days by a minister responsible for the matter and do not cause any further discussion. Furthermore, the parliament has a questioning session from time to time. In these, the members are allowed to ask short verbal questions, which are answered by the responsible ministers and then discussed by the parliament.

Any group of twenty members may interpellate. The motion of censure may be for the whole government or any particular minister. The motion takes the form of a question that is replied to by the responsible minister. If the parliament decides to approve the motion of censure, the committee responsible for the matter in question formulates the motion, which is then passed by the parliament.

The government may decide to make a report to the parliament in any matter. After discussion the parliament may either accept the report or pass a motion of censure. A passed motion of censure will cause the government to fall.

Any group of 10 members may raise the question of the legality of the minister's official acts. If such question is raised, the Constitutional Committee will investigate the matter, using all the powers of police. After the final report of the committee, the parliament decides whether to charge the minister in the High Court of Impeachment. The criminal investigation of the Constitutional Committee may also be initiated by the Chancellor of Justice, Parliamentary Ombudsman or by any parliamentary committee. Similar proceedings may also be initiated against the Chancellor of Justice, Parliamentary Ombudsman or the judges of the supreme courts. The President of Finland may be also the target of a criminal investigation of the Constitutional Committee, but the parliament must accept the indictment by a majority of three-fourths and the charge must be treason, high treason or a crime against humanity.

Members

The 200 members of the parliament enjoy a limited legal immunity: they may not be prevented from carrying out their work as members of parliament. They may be charged with crimes they have committed in office only if the parliament gives a permission to that end with a majority of five sixths of given votes. For other crimes, they may be arrested or imprisoned only for crimes which carry a minimum punishment of six months in prison, unless the parliament gives permission to arrest the member.

The members receive a monthly salary of 5860 euros, which is taxable. Those who have served 12 years, receive 6300 euros. In addition, they receive a tax-free compensation of expenses, and may travel for free within the country by train, bus or plane for purposes related to legislative work. Inside the capital region, they may freely use taxis.[2]

A member who is elected to the European Parliament must choose between the two parliaments. "Double mandate" is not permissible. On the other hand, the members may have any municipal positions of trust.

The members have an unlimited right to discuss the matters at hand. However, they must behave in "solemn and dignified manner" and refrain from personal insults. If the member breaks against this rule in the session of parliament, their speech may be interrupted by the spokesman. Grave breaches of order may be punished by two weeks' suspension from office after the decision of parliament. If a member is convicted of an intentional crime for a term in prison or of an electoral crime to any punishment, the parliament may decide to dismiss the member if two thirds of the votes given are for dismissal.

Ruling majority

Finland's proportional representation system encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many coalition-cabinets. No single party has held the absolute majority of the parliament during the independence.

In the parliamentary elections of 18 March 2007, there were two dominating parties: the Centre Party (KESK) got 51 seats, and the National Coalition Party (KOK) got 50 seats, in the 200-seat Parliament (in 2008 a Green MP defected to the National Coalition Party, giving it 51 seats in total). A new cabinet was formed by Centre and National Coalition parties together with the Swedish People's Party and the Green League.

History

The first session of the new Parliament in 1907

The Eduskunta was preceded by the Diet of Finland (maapäivät, later valtiopäivät), which had succeeded the Riksdag of the Estates in 1809. When the unicameral Parliament of Finland was established by the Parliament Act in 1906, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian Tsar, who ruled as Grand Duke of Finland, rather than as an absolute monarch. Universal suffrage and eligibility was implemented first in Finland. Women could both vote and run for office as equals, and this applied also to landless people with no excluded minorities. The first election to the parliament was arranged in 1907. The first parliament had 19 women representatives, an unprecedented number at the time.

The first steps of the new Parliament were difficult as between 1908-1916 the power of the Finnish parliament was almost completely neutralized by the Russian tsar Nicholas II and the so called "sabre-senate" of Finland, a bureaucratic government formed by Russian army officers, during the second period of Russification. The Parliament was dissolved and new elections were held almost every year during the period. The Finnish parliament received the true political power for the first time after the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia.[3]

Finland declared its independence on December 6, 1917 and in the winter and spring of 1918 endured the tragic Finnish Civil War, after which monarchists and republicans struggled over the country's form of government. Finland became a republic with a parliamentary system in July 1919, but extensive powers were reserved for the President of Finland. During the Winter war, the parliament temporarily moved to Kauhajoki.

The constitution of 1919, which instituted a parliamentary system did not undergo any major changes for 70 years. Although the government was responsible to the parliament, the president wielded considerable authority, which was fully utilized especially by President Urho Kekkonen. As the constitution implemented very strong protections for political minorities, most changes in legislation and state finances could be blocked by a qualified minority of one third. This, in conjunction with the inability of some of the parties to enter into coalition governments, led to weak, short-lived cabinets. Only during President Mauno Koivisto's tenure in 1980's, cabinets sitting for the whole parliamentary term became the rule. At the same time, the ability of qualified minorities to block legislation was gradually removed and the powers of the parliament were greatly increased in the constitutional reform of 1991.

The new, revised constitution of 2000 removed almost all domestic powers of the president, strengthening the cabinet and the parliament. It also included the methods for the discussion of European Union legislation under preparation in the parliament.

Parliament building

In 1923 a competition was held to choose a site for a new Parliament House. Arkadianmäki, a hill beside what is now Mannerheimintie, was chosen as the best site.

The architectural competition which was held in 1924 was won by the firm of Borg–Sirén–Åberg with a proposal called Oratoribus. Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889–1961), who was mainly responsible for preparing the proposal, was given the task of designing Parliament House. The building was constructed 1926–1931 and was officially inaugurated on March 7, 1931. Ever since then, and especially during the Winter War and Continuation War, it has been the scene of many key moments in the nation's political life.

Parliament House was designed in the classic style of the 1920s. The exterior is reddish Kalvola granite. The façade is lined by fourteen columns with Corinthian capitals. The first floor contains the main lobby, the Speaker’s reception rooms, the newspaper room, the Information Service, the Documents Office, the messenger centre, the copying room, and the restaurant and separate function rooms. At both ends of the lobby are marble staircases leading up to the fifth floor.

The second or main floor is centered around the Session Hall. Its galleries have seats for the public, the media and diplomats. Also located on this floor are the Hall of State, the Speaker’s Corridor, the Government’s Corridor, the cafeteria and adjacent function rooms.

The third floor includes facilities for the Information Unit and the media and provides direct access to the press gallery overlooking the Session Hall. The Minutes Office and a number of committee rooms are also located here.

The fourth floor is reserved for committees. Its largest rooms are the Grand Committee Room and the Finance Committee Room. The fifth floor contains meeting rooms and offices for the parliamentary groups. Additional offices for the parliamentary groups are located on the sixth floor, along with facilities for the media.

Notable later additions to the building are the library annex completed in 1978 and a separate office block, the need for which was the subject of some controversy, completed in 2004.

Major political parties

The Centre Party (Finnish: Suomen Keskusta) was the most popular party in 2007 elections. It traditionally represents rural interests and dominates rural municipalities. Likewise, it received only one seat in Helsinki. The party is a member of the Liberal International and the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and subscribes to the liberal manifestos of these organisations. Its members in the European Parliament are members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

The National Coalition Party (Finnish: Kansallinen Kokoomus) was the second most popular party in 2007 elections. It has been the most popular party for people in southern cities such as Helsinki. Among the three largest parties, it has the highest proportion of female members and it's the only growing party.[4] It is a member of European People's Party, the largest party in Europe.

The Social Democratic Party of Finland (Finnish: Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue, SDP) is a socialist party. Uniquely, the average member is over 60 years old.[5] It is member of Party of European Socialists. The Left Alliance (Finnish: Vasemmistoliitto) is a socialist party that replaced several communist and taistoist (orthodox pro-Soviet communist) parties. The Green League is a Finnish environmentalist, anti-nuclear party, which does not officially profess socialism.

The Christian Democrats (Finnish: Kristillisdemokraatit, KD; Swedish: Kristdemokraterna) is a Christian Democratic party.

The Swedish People's Party (Swedish: Svenska folkpartiet (SFP); Finnish: Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue (RKP)) is a Swedish-speaking minority and center-right liberal party. The party is a member of Liberal International and the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party.

Election results 2007

After the Finnish Parliamentary elections on March 18, 2007, the seats were divided among eight parties as follows:[6]

e • d  Summary of the 18 March 2007 Parliament of Finland election results
Parties Votes % Seats
Centre Party (Suomen Keskusta) 640,428 23.1 51
National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus) 616,841 22.3 50
Social Democratic Party of Finland (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue) 594,194 21.4 45
Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) 244,296 8.8 17
Green League (Vihreä liitto) 234,429 8.5 15
Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit) 134,790 4.9 7
Swedish People's Party (Svenska Folkpartiet) 126,520 4.5 9
True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) 112,256 4.1 5
Communist Party of Finland (Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue) 18,277 0.7 0
Seniors' Party of Finland (Suomen Senioripuolue) 16,715 0.6 0
Bourgeois Alliance (Borgerlig Allians, Åland) 9,561 0.3 1
Total (turnout 67.9 %)     200
Source: Finnish Ministry of Justice

See also

References

  1. ^ EU-asiat eduskunnassa. Finnish Parliament. Retrieved 12-1-2008. (Finnish). The whole section is written on the basis of this reference.
  2. ^ MPs' salaries and pensions. Finnish Parliament. Retrieved 6-15-2009. (English).
  3. ^ Apunen 1987, pp. 47-404
  4. ^ HS: Suurissa puolueissa miesenemmistöTurun Sanomat 18.9.2005
  5. ^ Puoluetoiminta jäänyt häviölle kilvassa ihmisten ajankäytöstä Turun Sanomat 23.3.2008
  6. ^ http://www.yle.fi/vaalit/tulospalvelu/index.htm (Finnish) [1] (Swedish)
  • Apunen, Osmo (1987), Rajamaasta tasavallaksi. In: Blomstedt, Y. (ed.) Suomen historia 6, Sortokaudet ja itsenäistyminen, pp. 47–404. WSOY. ISBN 951-35-2495-7.

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