Background Note--Finland 3/97
U.S. Department of State Background Note: Finland, March 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Finland
Area: 337,113 sq. km. (130,160 sq. mi.); about the size of New England,
New Jersey, and New York combined. Cities: Capital -- Helsinki (pop.
525,000). Other cities -- Tampere (182,700), Turku (164,700). Terrain:
Low but hilly, more than 70% forested, with more than 60,000 lakes.
Climate: Northern temperate.
Nationality: Noun -- Finn(s). Adjective -- Finnish.
Population: 5.13 million.
Population growth rate: 0.3%.
Ethnic groups: Finns, Swedes, Lapps, Roma, Tartars.
Religions: Lutheran 89%, Orthodox 1%.
Languages: Finnish 93%, Swedish 6% (both official); small Lapp- and
Education: Years compulsory -- 9. Attendance -- almost 100%. Literacy --
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 3.8/1,000. Life expectancy -- males 72
yrs., females 80 yrs.
Work force (2.5 million; of which 2 million are employed): Public
services -- 32%. Industry -- 22%. Commerce -- 14%. Finance, insurance,
and business services -- 10%. Agriculture and forestry -- 8%. Transport
and communications -- 8%. Construction -- 6%.
Type: Constitutional republic. Constitution: July 17, 1919.
Independence: December 6, 1917. Branches: Executive -- president (chief
of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of State
(cabinet). Legislative -- unicameral parliament. Judicial -- Supreme
Court, regional appellate courts, local courts. Subdivisions: 12
provinces, provincial self-rule for the Aland Islands. Political
parties: Social Democratic Party, Center Party, National Coalition
(Conservative) Party, Leftist Alliance, Swedish People's Party, Green
Party. Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $124 billion. GDP growth rate: 3.2%. Per capita income: $16,000.
Inflation rate: 0.6%. Natural resources: Forests, minerals (copper,
zinc, iron), farmland.
Agriculture (3% of GDP): Products -- meat (pork and beef), grain (wheat,
rye, barley, oats), dairy products, potatoes, rapeseed.
Industry (31% of GDP): Types -- metal and steel, forest products,
chemicals, shipbuilding, foodstuffs, textiles and clothing. Trade:
Exports -- $40 billion. Major markets -- EU 58%, U.S. 7%, Russia 5%,
Japan 2.5%. Imports -- $29 billion. Major suppliers -- EU 60%, U.S. 7%,
Russia 7%, Japan 6%. Official exchange rate (December 1995): 4.59
Relations between the United States and Finland are warm. Some 200,000
U.S. citizens visit Finland annually, and about 3,000 U.S. citizens are
resident there. The U.S. has an educational exchange program in Finland
which is comparatively large for a Western European country of Finland's
size. It is financed in part from a trust fund established in 1976 from
Finland's final repayment of a U.S. loan made in the aftermath of World
Finland is bordered on the east by Russia and, as one of the former
Soviet Union's neighbors, has been of particular interest and importance
to the U.S. both during the Cold War and in its aftermath. Before the
U.S.S.R. dissolved in 1991, long-standing U.S. policy was to support
Finnish neutrality while maintaining and reinforcing Finland's historic,
cultural, and economic ties with the West. The U.S. has welcomed
Finland's increased participation since 1991 in Western economic and
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Finland has moved
steadily toward integration into Western institutions and abandoned its
formal policy of neutrality, which has been recast as a policy of
military non-alliance coupled with the maintenance of a credible,
independent defense. Finland's 1994 decision to buy 64 F-18 fighter
planes from the United States signaled the abandonment of the country's
policy of balanced arms purchases from East and West.
In 1994, Finland joined NATO's Partnership for Peace; the country also
is an observer in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Finland became
a full member of the European Union (EU) in January 1995, at the same
time acquiring observer status in the EU's defense arm, the Western
Economic and trade relations between Finland and the United States are
active and were bolstered by the F-18 purchase. U.S.-Finland trade
totals almost $5 billion annually. The U.S. receives about 7% of
Finland's exports -- mainly pulp and paper, ships, and machinery -- and
provides about 7% of its imports -- principally computers,
semiconductors, aircraft, and machinery.
Finland generally welcomes foreign investment. Areas of particular
interest for U.S. investors are specialized high-tech companies and
investments that take advantage of Finland's position as a gateway to
Russia and the Baltic countries.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador -- Derek Shearer
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Michael Cleverley
Political Officer - Richard DeVillafranca
Economic Officer -- Michael Delaney
Commercial Officer -- Peter Frederick (resident in Stockholm, Sweden)
Consular Officer -- :Lisa Vickers
Administrative Officer -- Thomas Ryan Regional
Security Officer -- Jeremy Zeikel
Agricultural Officer -- Thomas Hamby (resident in Stockholm, Sweden)
Public Affairs Officer (USIS) -- Phillippe Duchateau
Labor Attache -- Kevin Johnson
The U.S. embassy in Finland is at Itainen Puistotie 14, Helsinki 00140;
tel: 358-9-171931; fax: 358-9-174681.
Finland has a dynamic industrial economy based on abundant forest
resources, capital investments, and technology. Traditionally, Finland
has been a net importer of capital to finance industrial growth. In the
1980s, Finland's economic growth rate was one of the highest of
In 1991, Finland fell into a deep recession caused by economic
overheating, depressed foreign markets, and the dismantling of the
barter system between Finland and the former Soviet Union. The same
year, Finland devalued the markka to promote export competitiveness.
This helped stabilize the economy; the recession bottomed out in 1993,
with continued growth through 1995. Unemployment continues to be a
problem for Finland, and in late 1996 it was around 19%.
Exports of goods contribute more than 20% of Finland's GDP; combined
exports of goods and services amount to at least 25% of GDP. Exports and
imports of goods equal about 40% of GDP. Timber and metalworking are
Finland's main industries, but other industries produce manufactured
goods ranging from electronics to motor vehicles. Finnish-designed
consumer products such as textiles, porcelain, and glassware are world-
Except for timber and several minerals, Finland depends on imported raw
materials, energy, and some components for its manufactured products.
Farms tend to be small, but sizable timber stands are harvested for
supplementary income in winter. The country's main agricultural products
are dairy, meat, and grains. Finland's EU accession has accelerated the
process of restructuring and downsizing of this sector.
An extensive social welfare system, constituting about one-fifth of the
national income, includes a variety of pension and assistance programs
and a comprehensive health insurance program. Although free education
through the university level also is available, only about one child in
four receives a higher education in the highly competitive system. In
the mid-1970s, the educational system was reformed with the goal of
equalizing educational opportunities. Beginning at age seven, all
Finnish children are required to attend a ";basic school"; of nine grade
levels. After this, they may elect to continue along an academic (lukio)
or vocational (ammat-tikoulu) line. But most pursue vocational studies,
since the number of openings in higher educational institutions is less
than the demand.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Finland has a mixed presidential/parliamentary system with executive
powers divided between the president, who has primary responsibility for
national security and foreign affairs, and the prime minister, who has
primary responsibility for all other areas. Constitutional changes made
in the late 1980s strengthened the prime minister -- who must enjoy the
confidence of the parliament (Eduskunta) -- at the expense of the
president. Finland's 1995 accession to the European Union has blurred
the line between foreign and domestic policy; the respective roles of
the president and prime minister are evolving, and plans are under
consideration to rewrite the constitution to clarify these and other
Finns enjoy individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal
at 18. The country's population is ethnically homogeneous with no
sizable immigrant population. Few tensions exist between the Finnish-
speaking majority and the Swedish-speaking minority.
President and Cabinet. Elected for a six-year term, the president:
-- Handles foreign policy, except for certain international agreements
and decisions of peace or war, which must be submitted to the
parliament; -- Is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has wide
decree and appointive powers; -- May initiate legislation, block
legislation by pocket veto, and call extraordinary parliamentary
sessions; and -- Appoints the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet
(Council of State).
The Council of State is made up of the prime minister and ministers for
the various departments of the central government as well as an ex-
officio member, the Chancellor of Justice. Ministers are not obliged to
be members of the Eduskunta and need not be formally identified with any
Parliament. Constitutionally, the 200-member, unicameral Eduskunta is
the supreme authority in Finland. It may alter the constitution, bring
about the resignation of the Council of State, and override presidential
vetoes; its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be
initiated by the president, the Council of State, or one of the
The Eduskunta is elected on the basis of proportional representation.
All persons 18 or older, except military personnel on active duty and a
few high judicial officials, are eligible for election. The regular
parliamentary term is four years; however, the president may dissolve
the Eduskunta and order new elections at the request of the prime
minister and after consulting the speaker of parliament.
Judicial System. The judicial system is divided between courts with
regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with
responsibility for litigation between the public and the administrative
organs of the state. Finnish law is codified. Although there is no writ
of habeas corpus or bail, the maximum period of pre-trial detention has
been reduced to four days. The Finnish court system consists of local
courts, regional appellate courts, and a Supreme Court.
Administrative Divisions. Finland has 12 provinces. Below the provincial
level, they are divided into cities, townships, and communes
administered by municipal and communal councils elected by proportional
representation once every four years. At the provincial level, the 11
mainland provinces are administered by provincial boards composed of
civil servants, each headed by a presidentially appointed governor. The
boards are responsible to the Ministry of the Interior and play a
supervisory and coordinating role within the provinces.
The island province of Aland is located near the 60th parallel between
Sweden and Finland. It enjoys local autonomy by virtue of an
international convention of 1921, implemented most recently by the Act
on Aland Self-Government of 1951. The islands are further distinguished
by the fact that they are entirely Swedish-speaking. Government is
vested in the provincial council, which consists of 30 delegates elected
directly by Aland's citizens.
Military. Finland's defense forces consist of 34,700 persons in uniform
(27,300 army; 3,000 navy; and 4,400 air force); the country's defense
budget equals about 2% of GDP. There is universal male conscription
under which all men serve from eight to 11 months. As of 1995, women
were permitted to serve as volunteers. A reserve force ensures that
Finland can field 500,000 trained military personnel in case of need.
Political Parties. Finland's proportional representation system
encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many
coalition governments. Political activity by communists was legalized in
1944, and although four major parties have dominated the postwar
political arena, none now has a majority position. The Social Democratic
Party (SDP) gained a plurality in Finland's parliament in the general
election of March 1995. But it won far less than an overall majority and
so formed a five-party governing coalition.
The SDP won 28% of the vote in 1995, mainly among the urban working
class but also with some support among small farmers, white-collar
workers, and professionals. The Leftist Alliance (LA) -- the SDP's rival
on the left -- gained 11% of the vote in 1995 and joined the SDP-led
government. The LA was formed in May 1990 and replaced the People's
Democratic League, the group that represented the Finnish Communist
Party in the Eduskunta.
Finland's two other major parties are the Center Party, traditionally
representing rural interests, and the National Coalition -- or
Conservative -- Party, which draws its major support from the business
community and urban professionals. The Center won nearly 20% and the
Conservatives 18% of the vote in 1995. The Conservatives are the second-
largest party in the SDP-led coalition, which is rounded out by the
Swedish People's Party and the Green Party. The Center Party leads the
opposition in Parliament.
Principal Government Officials
President -- Martti Ahtisaari
Prime Minister -- Paavo Lipponen Foreign Minister -- Tarja Halonen
Ambassador to the United States -- Jaakko Laajava
Ambassador to the United Nations -- Wilhelm Breitenstein
Finland's embassy in the United States is at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue,
NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-298-5800; fax: 202-298-6030.
Finland's basic foreign policy goal from the end of the Continuation War
with the U.S.S.R. in 1944 until 1991 was to avoid great-power conflicts
and to build mutual confidence with the Soviet Union. Although the
country was culturally, socially, and politically Western, Finns
realized they must live in peace with the U.S.S.R. and take no action
that might be interpreted as a security threat. The dissolution of the
Soviet Union in 1991 opened up dramatic new possibilities for Finland
and has resulted in the Finns actively seeking greater participation in
Western political and economic structures.
Relations With the Soviet Union and With Russia
The principal architect of the post-1944 foreign policy of neutrality
was J.K. Paasikivi, who was President from 1946 to 1956. Urho Kekkonen,
President from 1956 until 1981, further developed this policy, stressing
that Finland should be an active rather than a passive neutral. This
policy is now popularly known as the &Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line.;
Finland and the U.S.S.R. signed a peace treaty at Paris in February 1947
limiting the size of Finland's defense forces and providing for the
cession to the Soviet Union of the Petsamo area on the Arctic coast, the
Karelian Isthmus in southeastern Finland, and other territory along the
former eastern border. Another provision, terminated in 1956, leased the
Porkkala area near Helsinki to the U.S.S.R. for use as a naval base and
gave free access to this area across Finnish territory.
The 1947 treaty also called for Finland to pay to the Soviet Union
reparations of 300 million gold dollars (amounting to an estimated $570
million in 1952, the year the payments ended). Although an ally of the
Soviet Union in World War II, the United States was not a signatory to
this treaty because it had not been at war with Finland.
In April 1948, Finland signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation,
and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. Under this mutual
assistance pact, Finland was obligated -- with the aid of the Soviet
Union, if necessary -- to resist armed attacks by Germany or its allies
against Finland or against the U.S.S.R. through Finland. At the same
time, the agreement recognized Finland's desire to remain outside great-
power conflicts. This agreement was renewed for 20 years in 1955, in
1970, and again in 1983 to the year 2003.
The Finns responded cautiously in 1990-91 to the decline of Soviet power
and the U.S.S.R.'s subsequent dissolution. They unilaterally abrogated
restrictions imposed by the 1947 and 1948 treaties, joined in voicing
Nordic concern over the coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev,
and gave increasing unofficial encouragement to Baltic independence.
At the same time, by replacing the Soviet-Finnish mutual assistance pact
with treaties on general cooperation and trade, Finns put themselves on
an equal footing while retaining a friendly bilateral relationship.
Finland now is boosting cross-border commercial ties and touting its
potential as a commercial gateway to Russia. It has reassured Russia
that it will not raise claims for Finnish territory seized by the
U.S.S.R., and continues to reaffirm the importance of good bilateral
Finnish foreign policy emphasizes its participation in multilateral
organizations. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the EU in
1995. As noted, the country also is a member of NATO's Partnership for
Peace as well as an observer in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council
and the Western European Union.
Finland is well represented in the UN civil service in proportion to its
population and belongs to several of its specialized and related
agencies. Finnish troops have participated in UN peacekeeping activities
since 1956, and the Finns continue to be one of the largest per capita
contributors of peacekeepers in the world. Finland is an active
participant in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) and in early 1995 assumed the co-chairmanship of the OSCE's Minsk
Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Cooperation with the other Scandinavian countries also is important to
Finland, and it has been a member of the Nordic Council since 1955.
Under the council's auspices, the Nordic countries have created a common
labor market and have abolished immigration controls among themselves.
The council also serves to coordinate social and cultural policies of
the participating countries and has promoted increased cooperation in
In addition to the organizations already mentioned, Finland is a member
of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the
International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the
International Finance Corporation, the International Development
Association, the Bank for International Settlements, the Asian
Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Council of
Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and
The origins of the Finnish people are still a matter of conjecture,
although many scholars argue that their original home was in what is now
west-central Siberia. The Finns arrived in their present territory
thousands of years ago, pushing the indigenous Lapps into the more
remote northern regions. Finnish and Lappish -- the language of
Finland's small Lapp minority -- both are Finno-Ugric languages and are
in the Uralic rather than the Indo-European family.
Finland's nearly 700-year association with the Kingdom of Sweden began
in 1154 with the introduction of Christianity by Sweden's King Eric.
During the ensuing centuries, Finland played an important role in the
political life of the Swedish-Finnish realm, and Finnish soldiers often
predominated in Swedish armies. Finns also formed a significant
proportion of the first ";Swedish"; settlers in 17th-century America.
Following Finland's incorporation into Sweden in the 12th century,
Swedish became the dominant language, although Finnish recovered its
predominance after a 19th-century resurgence of Finnish nationalism.
Publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala -- a
collection of traditional myths and legends -- first stirred the
nationalism that later led to Finland's independence from Russia.
In 1809, Finland was conquered by the armies of Czar Alexander I and
thereafter remained an autonomous grand duchy connected with the Russian
Empire until the end of 1917. On December 6, 1917, shortly after the
Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence. In
1918, the country experienced a brief but bitter civil war that colored
domestic politics for many years. During World War II, Finland fought
the Soviet Union twice -- in the Winter War of 1939-40 and again in the
Continuation War of 1941-44. This was followed by the Lapland War of
1944-45, when Finland fought against the Germans as they withdrew their
forces from northern Finland.
Treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included
obligations and restraints on Finland vis-a-vis the U.S.S.R. as well as
territorial concessions by Finland; both have been abrogated by Finland
since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union (see Foreign Relations).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at (202) 647-5225
or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs Bulletin
Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280, price
$14.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see ";Principal
Government Officials"; listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see ";Principal U.S. Embassy Officials";
listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you
in case of an emergency.
FURTHER ELECTRONIC INFORMATION:
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provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
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