SOCIAL POLICY IN FINLAND
- an overview -

Directorate-General for Research
Working Document
Social Affairs Series
- W9 -


INTRODUCTION [1]

Finland is one of the Nordic countries. It maintains close relationships with all the other Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland), thanks mainly to its historical ties with them. Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden from the 11th Century until 1809. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy annexed to Russia, following the Hamina peace treaty. In 1917, Finland finally became independent and enacted its own first constitution in 1919.

Parliament consists of a single chamber of 200 members, who are elected every four years through a proportional voting system. Finland was the first country in Europe to introduce universal suffrage in parliamentary elections. Consequently, women have had the right to vote at state elections since 1906 and at municipal elections since 1917. In 1907 there were 19 women in the Finnish Parliament. Today, one third of the seats in the Eduskunta are women. In 1967, all citizens aged 18 and over were given the right to vote.

Traditionally, the single biggest party in the Eduskunta has been the Social Democrats. The biggest parties on the right are the Centre Party (formerly the Agrarian Union) and the National Coalition Party. The post-war era has been dominated by coalition governments, most often based on cooperation of the Social Democrats and the Centre Party. According to J. Kiander "the division of the political left has weakened it and induced the Social Democrats to find non-Socialist allies. As a consequence, the Scandinavian welfare state has not been developed so far as in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where the position and influence of the Social Democrats has been stronger. In general, the benefit levels and taxes are lower in Finland than in other Nordic countries" [2]. In 1991, the electorate broke its traditional allegiances and a right wing government came to power. The present government, formed after the state elections in March 1995, comprises the Social Democrats, the National Coalition Party, the Left-Wing alliance, the Swedish People's Party and the Greens (represented in Parliament since 1983).

Both Finnish and Swedish are official languages. The dominant language is Finnish. Swedish is the mother tongue of about 6% of the population.


European Parliament: October 1996