HELSINKI – Constitutional aftermath

The current coronavirus crisis has planted seeds for a constitutional debate in Finland. The unusual situation and the quick actions needed from politicians, institutions and authorities alike have brought the following questions to the fore: Is the current constitution defining and limiting the powers of the president and the government? Is their division of labour clear enough and best suited for exceptional times?

Historically, the president has been strong and has occasionally sidelined the parliament, similarly to France. Yet, since the 90s, the parliament’s role has been strengthened, while the president’s powers have been reduced. 

Under the current constitution, the president conducts foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government.

But, in times like these, how can these policy areas be properly defined?

Last week, President Sauli Niinistö approached the government and suggested a new body should be assembled to coordinate communication and actions of various ministries and authorities.

Even if the president said he would not be part of this body, quickly named as the “fist”, he had been stretching the limits of his constitutional powers. Niinistö’s activity had previously also caused some irritation, according to rumours from within the government.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s icy response was wrapped up in courteous phrasing. In her letter and tweets, she said that re-organising well-functioning structures and questioning the skills and capacity of authorities in times of crisis was bad timing. 

Both the president and the prime minister were quick to deny reports of disagreements and stormy meetings. Apparently, a classic case of there’s no smoke without fire. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)

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