Thursday, 9 April 2009

EU summits: One voice not enough for Finland?

Unclear Constitution sows confusion.

Helsingin Sanomat has brought it up again, this time in its international edition: President Halonen defends system of two representatives at EU summits.



“Two plates”

The issue has been dubbed the problem of two dinner plates by the media. Finland has been on a slow Constitutional trajectory from a royalist to a presidential and towards a parliamentarian form of democracy.

Generally, Finland can be seen as a stable and harmonius democracy, but the existing Constitution is a compromise, which embodies a directly elected President as main responsible for foreign policy with a Government in charge of EU affairs.

Every President and serious presidential hopeful since the beginning of Finland’s membership in the European Union has defended his or her participation in questions pertaining to the foreign and security policy of the European Union, and thus the meetings of the European Council.

Hence, the problem of two dinner plates at the meetings of EU heads of state OR government.


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Constitution

The Constitution of Finland 11 June 1999 (731/1999) presents the fudge in Chapter 8 on international relations. The President is the foreign policy leader, but nowadays in co-operation with the Government.

On the other hand, the Government prepares all EU measures and executes them, possibly with the approval of Parliament:




Chapter 8 - International relations

Section 93 - Competence in the area of foreign policy issues

The foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government. However, the Parliament accepts Finland's international obligations and their denouncement and decides on the bringing into force of Finland's international obligations in so far as provided in this Constitution. The President decides on matters of war and peace, with the consent of the Parliament.

The Government is responsible for the national preparation of the decisions to be made in the European Union, and decides on the concomitant Finnish measures, unless the decision requires the approval of the Parliament. The Parliament participates in the national preparation of decisions to be made in the European Union, as provided in this Constitution.

The communication of important foreign policy positions to foreign States and international organisations is the responsibility of the Minister with competence in foreign affairs.


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Parliamentary scrutiny

When Finland became a member of the European Union, it adopted a system of interactive parliamentary scrutiny built on the Danish model (and in many respects similar to the Swedish one).

Ahead of every Council meeting the responsible Minister discusses the issues with the Grand Committee (EU Committee), with the possibility to issue political guidance to the Government. Debriefings of the Council meetings take place afterwards.

All legislative and other EU proposals are communicated to Parliament and dealt with by the Grand Committee and special committees.

The Prime Minister discusses the meetings of the European Council before and reports afterwards.

The Government (not the President) is responsible for informing Parliament on both EU affairs and foreign affairs:


Section 96 - Participation of the Parliament in the national preparation of European Union matters

The Parliament considers those proposals for acts, agreements and other measures which are to be decided in the European Union and which otherwise, according to the Constitution, would fall within the competence of the Parliament.

The Government shall, for the determination of the position of the Parliament, communicate a proposal referred to in paragraph (1) to the Parliament by a communication of the Government, without delay, after receiving notice of the proposal. The proposal is considered in the Grand Committee and ordinarily in one or more of the other Committees that issue statements to the Grand Committee. However, the Foreign Affairs Committee considers a proposal pertaining to foreign and security policy. Where necessary, the Grand Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee may issue to the Government a statement on the proposal. In addition, the Speaker's Council may decide that the matter be taken up for debate in plenary session, during which, however, no decision is made by the Parliament. with the

The Government shall provide the appropriate Committees with information on the consideration of the matter in the European Union. The Grand Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee shall also be informed of the position of the Government on the matter.



Section 97 - Parliamentary right to receive information on international affairs

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament shall receive from the Government, upon request and when otherwise necessary, reports of matters pertaining to foreign and security policy. Correspondingly, the Grand Committee of the Parliament shall receive reports on the preparation of other matters in the European Union. The Speaker's Council may decide on a report being taken up for debate in plenary session, during which, however, no decision is made by the Parliament.

The Prime Minister shall provide the Parliament or a Committee with information on matters to be dealt with in a European Council beforehand and without delay after a meeting of the Council. The same applies when amendments are being prepared to the treaties establishing the European Union.

The appropriate Committee of the Parliament may issue a statement to the Government on the basis of the reports or information referred to above.


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European Union

The common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the common security and defence policy (CSDP) are increasingly normal EU policy areas, and they encompass relations with the rest of the world. Member states’ foreign relations (hopefully) increasingly pooled through the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon would be a modest but significant further step in this direction.

The border between EU foreign policy and ‘other’ foreign relations issues is becoming more artificial by the day.


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Parliamentary scrutiny

Parliamentary scrutiny seems to work only in relation to a politically accountable Government.


The half-baked compromise of the Finnish Constitution needs to be reformed: Responsible Government and ceremonial President.


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One voice in the world

Europe can hope to influence world events only if it learns to speak with one voice. How can a small state like Finland hope to influence anything if it refuses to speak with one voice even within the EU?



Ralf Grahn