The duties and authority of the President of the Republic are enacted in the Constitution of Finland. The President also has other statutory duties besides those specified in the Constitution.
Under the Constitution of Finland, executive power is vested in the President of the Republic and the Government, who must have the confidence of Parliament. This principle is reflected in other provisions of the Constitution concerning the President’s duties and powers dealing with legislation, decrees, appointment of public officials and so on. The number of matters within the scope of executive power has grown considerably since the 1919 Constitution was drafted, and the focus of executive power has shifted towards the Government. EU membership has contributed to this trend.
The President may, on a justified submission from the Prime Minister and having consulted the Parliamentary parties, order a premature Parliamentary election to be held. A new Parliament will then be elected for a normal four-year electoral period. Parliament may itself decide when to adjourn its session before an election.
Between 1919 and 1991, there were no statutory limitations to a President’s authority for ordering a premature election: the President was simply authorised to do so whenever he considered it necessary. So far, the President has dissolved Parliament on seven occasions: 1924 (Ståhlberg), 1929 and 1930 (Relander), 1953 (Paasikivi), and 1967, 1971 and 1975 (Kekkonen).
The Prime Minister and as many ministers as is considered necessary form the Government, formerly referred to as the Council of State, and commonly also called the cabinet. Government ministers must be Finnish citizens of acknowledged integrity and capability, and they must have the confidence of Parliament.
After a Parliamentary election, or in any other situation where the Government has resigned, the President, having heard the result of consultations between the parliamentary parties and having consulted the Speaker of Parliament, will announce a nominee for Prime Minister to Parliament. If confirmed by Parliament for the appointment, the Prime Minister nominee will then be appointed by the President to the position. The other ministers are appointed by the President based on a submission made by the new Prime Minister. Parliament must be in session whenever a Government is appointed or its membership is substantially changed.
The new Government is appointed at a Presidential session of the Government where the President first formally accepts the resignation of the previous Government and then immediately appoints the members of the new one.
The President may accept the resignation of the entire Government at once if submitted by the Prime Minister, or the resignation of an individual minister at the minister’s own request or on submission from the Prime Minister. The Government always resigns after a Parliamentary election. At other times, the Government may resign because of Parliament returning a vote of no confidence or because of irreconcilable differences between the Government parties. If Parliament returns a vote of no confidence against the Government as a whole or against an individual minister, the President must immediately dismiss the Government or individual minister even without a letter of resignation or submission from the Prime Minister.
Finland’s foreign policy is led by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government. However, Finland’s entry into and withdrawal from international obligations must be confirmed by Parliament as provided for in the Constitution. Matters of war and peace are decided by the President, with the consent of Parliament.
The Government is responsible for national preparation of decisions to be made in the European Union and decides on related Finnish measures, unless the decision has to be ratified by Parliament. Parliament participates in the national preparation of decisions to be made in the European Union as provided for in the Constitution.
All significant decisions in the area of foreign policy made by the President must be made together with the Government, which does the preparatory work. The President decides on the following: Finland’s foreign policy outlines, initiatives and directives for Finland’s representatives abroad in all matters of principle or importance; the recognition of foreign states; entering into or breaking off diplomatic relations; diplomatic missions; joining or resigning from international organisations; assigning delegations to international negotiations; and the signing, ratification and enforcement of international instruments (beyond statutory provisions).
The President appoints the heads of Finland’s diplomatic missions abroad (ambassadors). Diplomats representing other countries or international organisations accredited to Finland present their credentials to the President.
The minister whose purview includes international relations is responsible for communicating significant foreign policy statements to other governments and international organisations.
Under the Constitution, legislative power is exercised by Parliament. Legislation is initiated either by a Government Bill or by a legislative motion tabled by one or more Members of Parliament; such a motion may only be tabled when Parliament is in session. Government Bills are submitted by the Government.
The President decides in session with the Government, and on submission from the Government, whether to confirm an Act into law. An Act enacted by Parliament must be submitted to the President for confirmation. The President must decide whether to sign the Act into law within three months of the Act being submitted for confirmation. The President may consult the Supreme Court or Supreme Administrative Court before confirmation.
If the President refuses to confirm the Act, it will be reintroduced in Parliament. Parliament may then either pass the Act (unchanged in its substantial content) or dismiss it in a single vote with a simple majority. If passed, the Act will become law without confirmation. If not, the Act is considered to have expired. Any Act which the President has neglected to sign into law within the prescribed time shall immediately be reintroduced in Parliament. Any Act which enters into force, whether with or without confirmation, must be signed by the President and counter-signed by the relevant minister.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle matters related to the preparation, submission or confirmation of legislation and cannot respond to inquiries concerning them. Inquiries must be addressed to the relevant ministry or, if not known, to the Government Communications Unit at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The President of the Republic, the Government and individual ministries may adopt decrees pursuant to powers granted in the Constitution or other legislation. However, matters concerning the rights and responsibilities of the individual and any other matters specified in the Constitution as being within the domain of legislation must be provided for by an Act of Parliament. Unless otherwise provided for, decrees are adopted by the Government. In all cases, decrees are prepared and presented by the relevant ministry and minister.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle matters related to the preparation or presentation of decrees and cannot respond to inquiries concerning them. Inquiries must be addressed to the relevant ministry or, if not known, to the Government Communications Unit at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The President’s powers of appointment are either specified in the Constitution or based on provisions in other legislation. The President appoints the following officials:
The President also appoints the Presidents and Justices of the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court; the Presidents and Justices of the Courts of Appeal; and other permanently appointed members of the judiciary as separately provided for by law.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle matters related to the preparation or presentation of official appointments and cannot respond to inquiries concerning them. Inquiries must be addressed to the relevant ministry or, if not known, to the Government Communications Unit at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The President of the Republic is Supreme Commander of the Finnish Defence Forces. The President decides on all officer appointments and on the mobilisation of the Defence Forces. If Parliament is not in session when a decision to mobilise is to be taken, it must immediately be convened. The President may, on submission by the Government and under exceptional circumstances, delegate the duties of Supreme Commander to another Finnish citizen. This is an exception to the principle that the President may not delegate any official duties to other persons. Between 1939 and 1944, this duty was delegated to Field Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim.
The President decides on the basic guidelines of Finland’s military defence, on significant changes in military preparedness and on the principles of how military defence is implemented. The President also decides on other military matters of far-reaching import or of substantial importance in principle. The President further decides on military appointments and promotions.
The President decides on military matters on the recommendation of the Commander of the Defence Forces together with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, generally in an in-camera presentation outside regular Government meetings. The Minister of Defence must be present and the Prime Minister may be present and is entitled to speak at such a presentation. The President may refer a matter presented in camera for decision by the Government at his or her own initiative or on submission by the Minister of Defence; in such a case, the matter will be presented to the Government by the Minister of Defence. In this case, the President’s decision in the Government session is made without a Government recommendation. In case such a matter is being decided in a Presidential session of Government, the Commander of the Defence Forces is entitled to be present and to speak.
The President decides on military appointments based on an in-camera presentation by the Commander of the Defence Forces, with the contribution of the Minister of Defence. The Minister of Defence may be present and is entitled to speak at such a presentation. The appointments and assignments of officers of the rank of Colonel and below are decided at an in-camera presentation, while appointments to the following positions or ranks are made by the President in a Government session on recommendation by the Government as presented by the Minister of Defence: the Commander of the Defence Forces; the Chief of the Defence Command; any promotion to General or Admiral; the Deputy Chief of Staff, Logistics and Armaments; the Surgeon General; and the Field Bishop. This is also the procedure for the President appointing an officer or specialist officer in the Defence Forces to the position of a military attaché, deputy military attaché or military representative, or similar international duties.
The President decides on military command matters regarding the Border Guard on presentation by the Minister of the Interior outside Government sessions. These decisions are confirmed by the Minister of the Interior. The Prime Minister is entitled to be present and to voice on opinion when such matters are presented. The appointments and assignments of officers of the rank of Colonel and below are decided at an in-camera presentation, while appointments to the positions or ranks of commanding officers, Chief of the Border Guard and Deputy Chief of the Border Guard are made by the President in a Government session on recommendation by the Government as presented by the Minister of Defence. The President may refer a military command matter presented in camera for decision by the Government at his or her own initiative or on submission by the Minister of the Interior; in such a case, the matter will be presented to the Government by the Minister of the Interior. In this case, the President’s decision in the Government session is made without a Government recommendation.
In an individual case, having received a statement from the Supreme Court, the President of the Republic can remit a sentence or other criminal penalty imposed by a court, in whole or in part. A general amnesty must be enacted by law.
A pardon may only apply to a sentence or penalty imposed for a criminal offence (fine, imprisonment, forfeiture). The President cannot waive obligations based on public or civil law, such as taxes, maintenance payments or bank loans. A pardon may only be granted after the decision has become legal. Anyone can submit a petition for a pardon, which does not require the consent of the person to whom it applies.
Matters concerning pardons are prepared by the Ministry of Justice, and the Minister of Justice presents them to the President in a Government session. The Ministry of Justice obtains the necessary reports and statements concerning the matter, including the statement from the Supreme Court that is the formal requirement for granting a pardon.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle petitions for pardons and cannot respond to inquiries concerning them. Any inquiries should be addressed to the Ministry of Justice.
The President grants titles on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in a Government session, generally twice a year. The Title Board, based at the Prime Minister’s Office and chaired by the Prime Minister, processes title applications for presentation to the President.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle title applications. Any title applications received are forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office. The Office of the President of the Republic cannot respond to inquiries concerning title applications, inquiries should be addressed to the secretary of the Title Board at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The President awards decorations and medals belonging to the Order of the White Rose of Finland, the Order of the Lion of Finland and the Order of the Liberty Cross to Finnish citizens and foreign nationals on the recommendation of the Boards of the Orders, and Public Service Medals and Life Saving Medals pursuant to separate statutory procedures.
The President decides on the awarding of decorations and medals belonging to the Order of the White Rose of Finland, the Order of the Lion of Finland and the Order of the Liberty Cross in the capacity of Grand Master of these Orders. The joint Board of the Orders of the White Rose of Finland and the Lion of Finland and the Board of the Order of the Liberty Cross table proposals for decorations and prepare and present recommendations to the Grand Master outside Government.
A proposal for awarding a decoration may be made directly to the Boards of the Orders by the Speaker of Parliament, any Government minister, the Chancellor of Justice or, in the case of military recipients, the Commander of the Defence Forces. A proposal for awarding a decoration may be made through the relevant ministry by the Presidents of the Supreme Court, Supreme Administrative Court and Courts of Appeal (Ministry of Justice); Archbishops, Bishops and the Chancellor of the University of Helsinki (Ministry of Education); governors, heads of central government agencies and similar officials; and various other agencies and organisations.
Regarding decorations awarded to outstanding mothers on Mothers’ Day, the Regional State Administrative Agencies submit proposals to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Ministry then prepares a recommendation for the Boards of the Orders, which in turns prepares a recommendation to the President. Decorations to Finnish citizens are generally awarded twice a year, on Independence Day (6 December) and to military personnel on the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces (4 June). Decorations awarded to foreign nationals are decided on separately on an as-needed basis.
Formal presentations of decorations or medals to their recipients are usually organised by the authority that submitted the proposal. The decorations awarded to outstanding mothers are presented by the Minister of Social Affairs and Health at the Government Banquet Hall or the House of Estates on Mothers’ Day, generally in the presence of the President and the President’s spouse. Recipients of decorations and medals pay a fee, graded according to the class of the decoration or medal, to defray the costs of the Orders.
The President may award a Public Service Medal to a civil servant on the recommendation of the civil servant himself/herself or his/her supervisor. The civil servant must submit the application to his/her supervisor, who will forward it together with any of his/her own proposals to the Public Service Medal Committee. The Committee will prepare a recommendation of its own, to be presented by the Minister of Finance to the President in a Government session. The Public Service Medal and diploma are free of charge. A Public Service Medal may be awarded to a government employee who has been in full-time employment in central government for at least 30 years.
The President may award a Life Saving Medal to anyone for saving a life. A proposal for awarding this medal to a private individual must be submitted in writing to the Regional State Administrative Agency within whose area the life-saving event has taken place. A proposal for awarding this medal to a corporate body must be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior. The Regional State Administrative Agency investigates the event and makes a recommendation to the Ministry of the Interior. The Life Saving Medal Committee at the Ministry will return a statement on the recommendation, and the Ministry will prepare a recommendation on Life Saving Medals to be presented to the President by the Minister of the Interior in a Government session, generally once a year. The Life Saving Medal and diploma are free of charge.
The Office of the President of the Republic does not handle these matters and cannot respond to inquiries concerning them. Applications, proposals and inquiries should be addressed to the appropriate body in each case: the relevant ministry or Regional State Administrative Agency, or the Office of the Orders. Any applications or proposals sent directly to the President will be returned to the sender.
The President appoints the Governor of the autonomous Åland Islands after agreeing on the appointment with the Speaker of the Åland Assembly, or from among five persons nominated by the Åland Assembly. The formal opening and closing of sessions of the Åland Assembly are a Presidential function, but this is generally delegated to the Governor.
The President may submit proposals and statements to the Åland Assembly and, in consultation with the Speaker, dissolve the Assembly and order a new election. Legislation enacted by the Åland Assembly is submitted to the President for confirmation in a Government session; if the President refuses to confirm an Act, it will expire. Åland-related decisions are prepared and presented by the Ministry of Justice and the Minister of Justice.
The powers of the President under extraordinary circumstances are provided for in the Preparedness Act and the State of Defence Act.
The purpose of the Preparedness Act is, under exceptional circumstances, to ensure the livelihood of the population and the nation’s economy; to uphold law and order and basic civil and human rights; and to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence of the country. If the Government and President agree that the country is in exceptional circumstances, emergency powers may be invoked by Government Decree.
Under the State of Defence Act, national defence may be enhanced and national security heightened under exceptional circumstances as referred to in section 23 of the Constitution in order to safeguard national independence and law and order by enforcing a state of defence if and only if the powers granted under the Preparedness Act are not sufficient (in which case the provisions of the State of Defence Act overrule the comparable provisions of the Preparedness Act). A state of defence is declared by Presidential Decree, initially for a period of three months. This may be extended as necessary, for no more than one year at a time. A state of defence may be declared for only part of the country. Such a Decree must be submitted to Parliament for ratification.