The Parliament of Finland (Finnish: Suomen eduskunta, Swedish: Finlands riksdag) is the unicameral supreme legislature of Finland, founded on 9 May 1906. In accordance with the Constitution of Finland, sovereignty belongs to the people, and that power is vested in the Parliament. The Parliament consists of 200 members, 199 of whom are elected every four years from 13 multi-member districts electing 7-36 using the proportional D'Hondt method. In addition, there is one member from Åland.
Legislation may be initiated by either the Government or one of the members of Parliament. The Parliament passes legislation, decides on the state budget, approves international treaties, and supervises the activities of the government. It may bring about the resignation of the Finnish Government, override presidential vetoes, and alter the constitution. To make changes to the constitution, amendments must be approved by two successive parliaments, with an election cycle in between, or passed as an emergency law with a 166/200 majority. Most MPs work in parliamentary groups which correspond with the political parties. As of June 2018, the Parliament comprises ten parliamentary groups and one independent MP. Since the establishment of the Parliament in 1905, the parliamentary majority has been held once by a single party – the Social Democrats in the 1916 election. Thus, for the Government to gain a majority in the Parliament, coalition governments are favored. These are generally formed by at least two of the three historically major parties: the Social Democrats, Centre, and National Coalition. Ministers are often but not necessarily MPs. The Parliament meets in the Parliament House (Finnish: Eduskuntatalo, Swedish: Riksdagshuset), which is located in central Helsinki.
The most recent parliamentary election took place on 14 April 2019. The Social Democratic Party, the Centre Party, the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People's Party cooperated to form the Rinne Cabinet, a centre-left coalition government.
The Parliament's Finnish name is eduskunta, uncapitalized. The word was created 1906 when the unicameral Parliament was established 1906, with the approximate meaning of an 'Assembly of Representatives'. This word is used mostly to refer to Finland's legislature but can also be used as a general term for legislatures in any country.
In Swedish, the Parliament's name is riksdag, uncapitalized. This is also the general term for the Swedish legislature. Riksdag derives from the genitive of rike, 'realm', referring to the independent state of Finland, and dag, meaning diet or conference. Before independence, until the Constitution Act of 1919, the Parliament was known, in Swedish, as lantdagen, which was the old term for the Diet of Finland.
The Parliament of Finland was preceded by the Diet of Finland (Swedish: lantdagen; Finnish: maapäivät, modern Finnish: 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 and principality under the Imperial Russian Tsar, who ruled as the Grand Duke, rather than as an absolute monarch. Universal suffrage and eligibility was implemented, making Finland the second country in the world to adopt universal suffrage. 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 female representatives, an unprecedented number at the time, which grew to 21 by 1913.
The first years of the new Parliament were difficult. Between 1908 and 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 Imperial Russian Army officers during the second period of "Russification". The Parliament was dissolved and new elections were held almost every year.
The Finnish Parliament received the true political power for the first time after the February Revolution (First Revolution) of 1917 in Russia. Finland declared its independence on December 6, 1917, and in the winter and spring of 1918 endured a civil war in which the forces of the Senate, known as the White Guard, defeated the socialist Red Guard.
After the war, monarchists and republicans struggled over the country's form of government. The monarchists seemed to gain a victory when the Parliament elected a German prince as King of Finland in the fall of 1918. This decision was made on the basis of other Scandinavian countries also having monarchs. However, the king-elect abdicated the throne after Imperial Germany was defeated in World War I, on November 11, 1918. In the parliamentary election of 1919, the republican parties won three quarters of the seats, extinguishing the monarchists' ambitions. Finland became a republic with a parliamentary system, but in order to appease the monarchist parties, which favoured a strong head of state, extensive powers were granted to the President of Finland.
When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in the Winter War, in early December 1939 Parliament was evacuated and the legislature temporarily relocated to Kauhajoki, a town in western Finland far away from the frontline. The parliament held 34 plenary sessions in Kauhajoki, with the last on 12 February 1940. Another temporary relocation was seen during the renovation of the Parliament House in 2015–2017 when the Parliament convened in the neighbouring Sibelius Academy.
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 used to its full extent by long-standing 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.
During President Mauno Koivisto's tenure in the 1980s, cabinets sitting for the whole parliamentary term became the norm. 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 revised 2000 draft of the Finnish constitution removed almost all domestic powers of the President, strengthening the position of the cabinet and the Parliament. It also included the methods for the discussion of EU legislation under preparation in the Parliament.
The Parliament of Finland has been dissolved eight times during its existence. The most recent instance was on 4 June 1975.
The Parliament's 200 representatives are elected directly by ballot on the basis of proportional representation. A standard electoral period is four years. Elections have previously taken two days, but as early voting has become more popular, they are now conducted during one day; the third Sunday of April of an election year.
Every Finnish citizen who is at least 18 years of age on the election date is entitled to vote in general elections. There is normally no need to register as a voter, and citizens receive an invitation by mail. With certain exceptions, such as military personnel on active duty, high judicial officials, the President of the Republic, and persons under guardianship, any voter may also stand as a candidate for the Parliament. All registered parties are entitled to nominate candidates; individual citizens and independent electoral organizations must be endorsed by a sufficient number of voters through the form of supporter cards to apply.
In parliamentary elections, Finland is divided into 13 electoral districts. The number of representatives granted to each district is proportional to its population, except for Åland, which always elects 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 has the ultimate responsibility for holding elections.
The President of Finland can call for an early election. As per the version of the constitution currently in use, the president can do this only upon proposal by the Prime Minister and after consultations with the parliamentary groups while the Parliament is in session. In prior versions of the constitution, the President had the power to do this unilaterally.
There is no hard and fast election threshold to get a seat in the Parliament. In large part due to this, it is nearly impossible for one party to win an outright majority. During the history of the Parliament, only one party has ever won an outright majority–when the Social Democrats won 103 seats in the election of 1916. Since independence in 1917, no party has ever won the 101 seats needed for a majority. Instead, most Finnish governments have been coalitions formed by three or more parties. Many of them have been grand coalitions between parties with varying ideological backgrounds, as the socialist and non-socialist blocs usually do not win enough seats between them to govern on their own.
The seats for each electoral district are assigned according to the D'Hondt method. Electoral districts were originally based on the historical lääni division of 1634, but there have been several subsequent changes. Although there is no set election threshold, many electoral districts have become smaller in terms of population in recent decades, and some now elect as few as six representatives. This makes it harder for small parties to win MPs in these districts.
MPs work in parliamentary groups (eduskuntaryhmä). The parliamentary groups correspond to political parties, although occasionally dissidents can be removed from the party group and form their own. As of September 2019 there are nine groups, one of which is a one-man group. A group generally tries to reach a unanimous decision on a common position. This position then defines voting in the parliamentary session proper according to party discipline. Each parliamentary group receives funding for its operations and may have staff of its own.
Formation of government
The President of Finland consults the Speaker of Parliament and representatives of parliamentary groups about the formation of a new Finnish Government. According to the Constitution of Finland, the Parliament elects the Prime Minister, who is appointed to office by the President. The Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful politician in the country. Other ministers are appointed by the President on the Prime Minister’s proposal. While individual ministers are not appointed by the Parliament, they may be individually removed by a motion of no confidence. The government, as a whole, must also have the confidence of the Parliament and must resign on a motion of no confidence. The government has collective ministerial responsibility.
Before the Prime Minister is elected, the parliamentary groups (which correspond to their respective political parties) negotiate on the government platform and on the composition of the government. On the basis of the outcome of these negotiations, and after having consulted the Speaker of the house and the parliamentary groups, the President informs the Parliament of the nominee for Prime Minister. The parliament votes on the proposal, and if successful, the nominee is elected Prime Minister. Although Finland essentially always has multi-party coalition governments, the process is made smoother by party discipline: coalition MPs vote together to ensure a majority.
The annual session of parliament generally begins in February and consists of two terms, the first from January to 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 the Parliament House, where the President formally opens the session.
On the first day of each annual session, the Parliament selects a speaker and two deputy speakers from its members. This election is chaired by the oldest MP in office. The three members who are elected to serve as speaker and first deputy speaker and second deputy speaker respectively take the following solemn oath before the Parliament;
During each annual session of Parliament, Finland’s delegations to the Nordic Council and the Council of Europe are assigned. The Parliament also elects five of its members to the bench of the High Court of Impeachment for the duration of the parliamentary term.
The Parliament has 16 committees. Most committees have 17 permanent members, except for the Grand Committee, which has 25; the Finance Committee, which has 21; and the Audit Committee, which has 11. In addition to these permanent members, each of the committees has a number of substitute members. On average, each member of the Parliament is also a member of two committees.
Fifteen of the committees are special committees, while the Grand Committee deals with EU affairs, but also has a wider range of tasks. As Finland does not have a constitutional court, the role of the Constitutional Law Committee is to oversee constitutional affairs. The Committee for the Future is also noteworthy, as it does not usually deal with bills, but instead assesses factors relating to future developments and gives statements to other committees on issues relating to the future outlooks of their respective fields of speciality.
Chairmanships of the committees are divided among the parties. For the Parliament of 2015-2019, the Centre Party chairs four committees, the Finns Party, the National Coalition Party and the Social Democratic Party each chair three committees, and the Left Alliance, the Green League and the Swedish People's Party each chair one committee.
Most of the bills discussed in the parliament originate within the Council of State. However, any member or group of members may introduce a bill, but usually these will not pass the committee phase. A third way to propose legislation was introduced in 2012: citizens may deliver an initiative for the parliament's consideration, if the initiative gains 50,000 endorsements from eligible voters within a period of six months. When delivered to the parliament, the initiative is dealt with in the same way as any other bill. Any bill introduced will initially be discussed by the members of the Parliament, prior to being sent to the committee to which it belongs. If the bill concerns several areas of legislation, the Grand 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 demanded. 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 various 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. The committee statements are influential documents in that they often used by the courts as indicative of the legislator's intent.
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.
The matters relating to the jurisdiction of the European Union are decided by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. However, as changes to European legislation are being prepared, the Parliament participates actively in formulating the government's position on these changes.
As the proceedings of the committees are public, European Union matters handled by the Parliament tend to become public after committee meetings. However, the government may ask the Parliament for a secret handling of an EU matter. This can be the case if the government does not want to reveal its position to foreign nations before the beginning of negotiations.
European Union legislation under preparation is brought to the Grand Committee by the Finnish government when they have received notice of the proposal from the European Commission. The Grand Committee discusses the matter behind closed doors, and if appropriate, requests opinions from the committees of the Parliament. Both the Grand Committee and the specialized committees hear expert opinions while preparing their opinions. Finally, the Grand Committee formulates its opinion of the proposal. However, in matters concerning the external relations of the European Union, the Finnish stance is formulated by the Committee for Foreign and Security Policy, rather than the Grand Committee.
The Finnish government is obligated by law to follow the parliamentary opinion when discussing the matter with the European Commission and other member states. 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 that is to be implemented by the Parliament, the matter is brought back to the parliament as with usual legislation. At this stage, the Finnish state is committed to passing a bill fulfilling the requirements demanded by the EU, and the Parliament must vote accordingly.
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 of the Parliament
Members of the Parliament are not employees, and cannot voluntarily resign or be laid off. They can be granted leave or dismissal only with the consent of the Parliament. Members of the Parliament 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. MPs 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 taxable remuneration (palkkio) of 6,407 €. Those who have served for 12 years or longer receive 6,887 €. It is not legally a salary. In addition, all MPs automatically receive 986.81 € as tax-free compensation of expenses, which can be increased up to 1,809.15 € with receipts. MPs from districts far from Helsinki can thus receive compensation for a second apartment in Helsinki. MPs may travel for free within the country by train, bus, or plane for purposes related to legislative work. Within Greater Helsinki, they may freely use taxis. Eduskunta is responsible for its own finances and the Minister of Finance is obliged to include their proposal to the state budget as is regardless of his own opinion.
MPs are aided in their work by personal assistants, although there are fewer assistants than MPs and not every MP has one. Assistants are formally employed by the Parliamentary Office, but can be selected and directed by the MP.
A member who is elected to the European Parliament must choose between the two parliaments because a double mandate is not permissible. On the other hand, the members may have any municipal positions of trust, and it is common for them to have a position in a municipal council. If MPs leave the parliament or die in office, they are replaced by candidates from the same list they were elected from in the previous election, in order of their electoral score (the D'Hondt quotient). Those so selected are from a substitute list, the substitutes being named at the same time as the eclectoral results are announced. Finland does not have a by-election system.
The members have an unlimited right to discuss the matters at hand. However, they must behave in a "solemn and dignified manner" and refrain from personal insults. If the member breaks against this rule in the session of parliament, they may be interrupted by the speaker. Grave breaches of order may be punished by two weeks' suspension from office by the decision of the 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.
Before the construction of the Parliament House, the Parliament met in various different locations. The Diet of Finland, the predecessor of the Parliament, was tetracameral and did not regularly meet together. The Diet of Porvoo (1809) met in various buildings in Porvoo, with Borgå gymnasium as the main hall, the noble and burgher estates meeting in the town hall and the peasants' estate in chief judge Orraeus' house. However, the Diet assembled only once and did not reconvene until 1863. In 1863, the Diet began regular meetings again, reconvening in the House of Nobility (Ritarikatu 1). This building still stands, but is no longer in governmental use. Whereas nobility continued to meet there, in 1891 a new House of the Estates was inaugurated for the other estates (clergy, burghers and peasants). This building is today owned by the state and occasionally used by the Government of Finland. When the modern 200-member Parliament was founded in 1906, they first met in the local voluntary fire brigade house (Keskuskatu 7), because there was not enough space for them in the House of Estates. The fire brigade house was demolished in 1967 and replaced by the Helsinki World Trade Center building. In 1911, the Heimola House, a building designed by Onni Tarjanne, was inaugurated at Yliopistonkatu 5. This building was demolished in 1969 and replaced by a 9-story office 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. An architectural competition was held in 1924, and it was won by the firm Borg–Sirén–Åberg with their proposal, Oratoribus. Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889–1961), who was mainly responsible for preparing the proposal, was tasked with designing the 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 Chamber. 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.
The building underwent extensive renovations in the years 2007–2017 as part of the preparation for Finland's centennial independence celebration.
Result of the election held on April 14, 2019: