1.2 History of the constitutional system

The historical roots of Finnish Constitution stretch back to the period of being the easternmost part of the Kingdom of Sweden (until 1809) and the subsequent period as an autonomous grand duchy under the Russian Czar (1809-1917). On December 6th, 1917 Parliament proclaimed Finland an independent republic. Basically, the key elements of parliamentary organisations have remained unchanged for the past 100 years.

Finland's dependence on the autocratically ruled Russia delayed the necessary reforms of participatory rights and citizens' freedoms. On the other hand, the construction of the state and the nation proceeded substantially during the autonomy. Thus, at the independence of the country in 1917 most of the structures needed for the self-dependent political system already existed. These comprised, for instance, local communities with self-government, state regional government, a national legislature, a state government, the agencies and organs of central administration, courts of law and political parties. Also the development of the society of citizens and sense of national and cultural identity were needed for the change.

Between 1917 and 1922 the newly independent state adopted the Constitution Act and the other necessary constitutional legislation. The established power structure had been based on the domination of the ruler and it had become an important part of political culture of Finland. However, also the competing, democratic thought spread out from Europe and reached Finland. These ideas concretised institutionally in a republican constitution and parliamentary system of government. As regards to the models of democracy, the conservatives emphasized ensuring a sovereign and strong government, with consensual democracy supporting it, but supreme executive power being wielded by a monarch or a president. For the liberals and the socialists, in contrast, the leading principle was self-government by the people, which was believed to be the only way that democracy and solid government could be truly ensured.

The search for a balance between the presidential and the parliamentary focus of authority became the central issue of constitutional practice. The Constitution of 1919 did not dissolve these contradictions, but the different views were both built into it. With certain logical inconsistence the political system came to comprise many dualities: rigidity and flexibility, authoritarianism and pluralism, centralisation and decentralisation. The resulted new system can be described as a mixed constitution. It was mainly because of its flexibility and capability to satisfy very variable expectations of authority, that the Constitution could withstand eight decades without ever being seriously threatened. The written Constitution of Finland allowed the cycles of political life to direct and redirect the actual practices of government. During the decades they were fluctuating between parliamentarism and the powerful position of the president - between the primarily parliamentary and the primarily presidential interpretation of the system of government. Accordingly, in the constitutional practice there was need for the continuous reconciliation of competing legitimacies and the active avoidance of conflicts.

At the first years of independence parliamentary interpretation of the constitution dominated the constitutional practice. During the decades after World War II Finnish democracy could be characterised as semi-presidential. In this form of distribution of power, both The President and the Government, dependent as it is on the confidence of parliament, were truly wielding power. Especially the long term in office of Urho Kekkonen (1956-81) saw the increase of the influence of the head of the state in foreign affairs and in domestic policy alike. Personifying the foreign policy of the country to a single leader made it easier to manage Finland's sensitive relationship to the Soviet Union. The relaxation of geopolitical tensions lowered the profile of the presidency, and in other respects too the competence of the parliamentary government strengthened again during the term of the following president, Mauno Koivisto (1982-94). Gradually the idea of parliamentary government solidified. The prime minister has assumed the role of an active leader, and the parliament has modernised its internal functions and intensified its supervision of the administration.

During the first fifty years of Finnish independence there was little pressure or need for any amendments to the Constitution act. In 1970s the process of broader comprehensive reform of the constitutional legislation as a whole was launched but it became clear that comprehensive reform was not a realistic proposition at that time. The piecemeal reform measures were given an attention instead, and there have been numerous amendments to Finland's constitutional legislation since the 1980s. The provisions on the holding of consultative referenda were added and the changes in the status of president were executed. The indirect form of electing the President via an Electoral College was first replaced by a system which combined the Electoral College with direct election, and finally by a system of straightforward direct popular election.

The stability of the Finnish constitution has been based on the arrangement, where the parliamentary and the presidential focal points of authority remained essentially on different levels. Finnish system of government can be described as a diarchy, with a "grey area" between the competencies of the two main operators - the president and the prime minister. When certain division of tasks, and a difference in the level of operations existed, the whole arrangement could however be subjected to a lot of fluctuation but still remain relatively solid and conflict of the legitimacies and collisions could be avoided. The presidency as an institution enjoyed strong traditional and constitutional legitimacy, while the parliamentary structure got its legitimacy from the popular mandate.

During the 1990s the situation changed, especially the institution of Presidency underwent a transition. In 1994 the direct election of the president was carried out for the first time. This reinforced the legitimacy of the presidency based on the immediate support of the people and reduced, on the other hand, the traditional and constitutional legitimacy. The change can be assumed to have at least indirectly strengthened the President's position in relation to other organs of government, but at the same time, he entered the same competition for power as the party leaders and also he had to secure his mandate by continuous activity. In foreign policy the problem of competing legitimacies arose latest at the accession of Finland to the EU, when the arrangements were being laid down for decision making in European affairs. Changes in constitutional legislation were in part motivated by a request to secure the position of parliament within the on-going process of European integration.

The reforms that were made especially since 1980s had adjusted the powers of Parliament, The President and the Government in order to strengthen Parliament's position as the highest organ of government and improve its scope of action. An underlying reason was the wish to prevent the reoccurrence of the semi-presidential model of government. The accumulated effect of the various partial reforms corresponds rather well to the goal of providing a balance between the powers of the legislature and the executive. However, at the same time the pressure to the more fundamental redistribution of power grew.

The reform of the constitution

The question emerged, whether the Finnish constitution could any longer be reasonable developed through piecemeal reform of the separate constitutional laws. The need for clarity and internal consistency, in particular, suggested abandoning the system of several constitutional laws and gathering all constitutional provisions into a single, integrated Constitution act. Alongside with the goal to integrate and update the constitutional legislation was also the need of strengthening the role of Parliament in the Finnish system of Government. The bases and objectives of the constitutional reform were numerous but the emphasis was given to the limited reform without intervening to the foundations of the political system of Finland.

The constitution 2000 Working Group of experts concluded that the most important questions of constitutional law to be addressed in the reform were the reduction of the scope of constitutional regulation, the development of relations between the highest organs of government, the clarification of questions of power and responsibility in international affairs and the constitutional recognition of EU-membership, retroactive supervision of the constitutionality of legislation, the use of exceptive laws and the system ensuring the legal responsibility of Government ministers.

The Constitution had divided into two main instruments, the Constitution act and the Parliament act. There was regulatory framework for governmental authority and, separately from it, there was the provisions covering legislature. Viewed internationally, the Finnish system of four constitutional laws was exceptional. The new constitutional instrument was unified in compliance with the continental model. Finland's first genuinely comprehensive constitutional reform was ready to come into effect after the Parliament approval on June 4, 1999 and the ratification by the President of the Republic on june 11. The new Constitution of Finland entered into force on 1 March 2000.