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JURIST's Finland Correspondent is Timo Ahonen, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Turku, and Editor-in-Chief of the Turku Law Journal.
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The New Finnish Constitution

[Turku; Special to JURIST] The Finnish Parliament gave final approval for the content of the proposal for Finland's new Constitution in February 1999. The proposal met the main goal set for the reform: to integrate and update Finland's constitutional legislation.

The new Constitution is based on and repealed the four old constitutional acts: the Constitution Act of Finland (1919), the Parliament Act (1928) and two acts on ministerial liability; the Act on the Right of Parliament to Inspect the Lawfulness of the Official Acts of the Members of the Council of State, the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman - generally referred to under its shorter title of Ministerial Responsibility Act (1922). The Parliament has amended the acts in the course of the years, but the principal constitutional traits have remained unchanged. Internationally, the Finnish system of four constitutional laws was exceptional, and the main problem that has followed from this fragmentation of constitutional provisions across several seperate acts has been a reduction in clarity and internal consistency in the Constitution.

The foundations of the Finnish Constitution will remain essentially unchanged by the new law. The new Constitution still reiterates the main principle of the old Constitution Act: in Finland sovereign power lies with the people represented by the Parliament in session. The new Constitution wioll serve as the supreme source of national law and provide the basis for the legal system as a whole.

The new Constitution of Finland is divided into 13 chapters. Below is a short introduction to the main provisions in each chapter:

Chapter 1. Fundamental provisions

The first Chapter continues the affirmation of Finland's status as a sovereign Republic; the inviolability of human dignity and the rights of the individual; the sovereignty of the people; the principle of representative democracy and the position of Parliament as the highest organ of government; the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers; the independence of the courts; the principle of parliamentary government; and the rule of law.

Chapter 2. Fundamental rights

The Constitution guarantees basic individual civil rights, e.g. legal equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom to choose one's residence, and the freedom of movement. Everyone who has attained the age of 18 is entitled to vote in national (parliamentary, presidential and EU) and municipal elections. The right to one's language is also guaranteed. (The national languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish, which may freely be used in contacts with the authorities.) The linguistic rights of the Sami, the Romani and other groups are part of the Constitution. The state and the municipality of residence have to guarantee preconditions for a life with human dignity in situations in which one's own resources do not suffice. Everyone has to be arranged basic education free of charge. Privacy, honour and home are protected by the Constitution. A message by someone may neither be read nor listened to without permission. The preservation of our environment as a common task is mentioned.

Chapter 3. Parliament and Members of Parliament

Everyone entitled to vote may enter as a candidate in parliamentary elections. (Only the President, high-ranking legal officials and members of the armed forces may not be a candidate.) Two hundred Representatives are elected in parliamentary elections amongst the candidates nominated by parties and groups of voters for the period of four years. On a proposal of the Prime Minister and after having heard the parliamentary groups, the President may order that new elections be held. (This was last done in 1975). Other rules and regulations than the Constitution do not oblige the representatives. Of course if a Representative breaks the law the Representative is punished, as any other person would be.

Chapter 4. Functions of Parliament

The Parliament takes decisions in plenary sessions chaired by the Speaker or a Deputy Speaker. Only the Representatives may take part in a decision. The plenary sessions are open to the public. The records of the parliamentary sessions are also public. In the Parliament an issue is raised either as a governmental bill or as a motion submitted by a Representative. Before a decision is taken a select committee prepares all bills and motions. A group of at least twenty Representatives may address an interpellation to the Government. After a discussion about the reply of the Government, the Parliament takes a vote on whether the Government enjoys its confidence.

Chapter 5. The President of the Republic and the Government

The President of the Republic is elected directly. A candidate has to be a native Finnish citizen entitled to vote. Candidates nominated by parties and groups of voters participate in the first round of the elections. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast a second round is arranged. The candidates in the run-off are the two who received most votes in the first round. The one receiving more votes is elected President.The presidential term is six years. The same person may be elected President for no more than two consecutive terms, i.e. for altogether twelve years. The President takes most decisions on a proposal of the Government.The Government has to enjoy the confidence of the Parliament.. The Parliament elects the Prime Minister who is appointed by the President. The other ministers the President appoints on the basis of a nomination by the Prime Minister.

Chapter 6. Legislation

The most important duty of the Parliament is to pass legislation. A new act is adopted or an old amended on the basis of a governmental bill or of a motion submitted by a Representative.

After a preliminary debate the bill or motion is referred to a select committee, which thoroughly considers the matter and hears experts. An adopted act is submitted to the President for ratification.

Chapter 7. State finances

The Government has to draft a proposal for next year's budget, and to submit it to the Parliament. The parliamentary Select Committee for Finance carefully examines the budget bill and the budget motions submitted by Representatives.The Parliament decides on the budget. Revenues include inter alias state taxes and charges. The taxes are laid down by an act.

Chapter 8. International relations

The President of the Republic in cooperation with the Government directs the Finnish foreign policy. The President and the ministers responsible for foreign relations discuss the most important matters in the governmental Committee for Foreign and Security Policy.The Parliament accepts the most important international treaties

Chapter 9. Administration of justice

Judical power lies with independent courts of law. The President of the Republic appoints the judges. The first instance is the district court. Its decisions may be appealed against to a court of appeal. The Supreme Court wields supreme judicial power in civil and criminal cases.

Administrative courts and the Supreme Administrative Court hear cases within that field. In addition, there is a Court of Impeachment and some special courts

Chapter 10. Supervision of legality

The Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman supervise the President, the Government and the courts, and the legality of state and municipal acts. They also oversee that civil and human rights are respected and carried out.

Chapter 11. Administration and autonomy

The Constitution guarantees municipal autonomy, and the municipalities are entitled to levy tax. Through an act the State may however impose responsibilities on the municipalities. The ナland Islands are also guaranteed autonomy. In their native region the Sami have cultural and linguistic autonomy. Appointments to state offices have to be based on competence and merit. The President appoints the highest state officials.

Chapter 12. Defence

Every Finn is obliged to defend Finland in time of need. The President is the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces and appoints the officers. On a proposal of the Government the President decides on the mobilisation of the armed forces, and with the consent of the Parliament on war and peace.

The complete text of the Constitution of Finland is available in English, German, French, Spanish and Sami translation (translation into Russian will be available soon) at: http://www.om.fi/constitution/3341.htm.

Timo Ahonen
JURIST Finland Correspondent

Faculty of Law
University of Turku

July 11, 2000

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