Freedom in the World
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While an economic downturn highlighted Finland's heavy dependence on a single industry--telecommunications--Finland was buoyed after receiving the "least corrupt country" rating by Transparency International in 2001. Finns continued to debate the merits of joining NATO during the year.
The achievement of Finnish independence followed some eight centuries of foreign domination, first by Sweden (until 1809) and subsequently as a Grand Duchy within the pre-Revolutionary Russian Empire.
Finland's current constitution, issued in July 1919, was amended in February 1999 and came into force in 2000. The amended constitution diminishes the power of the president, which was unusually broad under the former constitution, while increasing the power of the parliament. The parliament has greater sway over calling elections and can appoint national representatives to international gatherings, include European Union meetings. Finland joined the European Monetary Union in 1999.
In February 2000, Finns, for the first time in their nation's history, elected a woman president, Tarja Halonen, a left-leaning member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Her election marked only the second direct popular vote for president in Finland, where presidents are elected to six-year terms.
Halonen's victory followed the reelection one year earlier of Finland's fragile coalition government, led by Paavo Lipponen of the SDP. Although the SDP lost 12 of the 63 seats it had held since the 1995 elections, the coalition (including the SDP, the National Coalition Party, the Left Alliance, the Greens, and the Swedish People's Party) won more than half the seats in Finland's 200-seat unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta.
After an economic boom in the late 1990s, Finland experienced slower growth in 2001. Reduced export demand and unmet earnings projections led to significant cutbacks at Nokia, a major mobile-phone producer. Layoffs announced at Sonera, Finland's largest mobile-phone network provider, further raised fears that the country's economy is not sufficiently diversified. The mobile-phone sector has replaced forestry as Finland's biggest industry.
Finland still remains outside of NATO. A majority of Finns continued to oppose NATO membership. Skittish of their close proximity to Russia, most feel full membership would impact negatively on relations with their eastern neighbor. Finland is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
Finns can change their government by democratic means. The Aland Islands, populated mainly by Swedes, have their own provincial parliament. The local Liberal Party won the elections that took place in mid-October 1999. The result seems to have been something of a blow to earlier demands for even greater autonomous powers in Aland, as the Liberals do not share the Free Conservative and Center Party belief that the current system is inadequate.
Finland has a large variety of newspapers and magazines and is ranked among the highest in terms of Internet users per capita in the world. Newspapers are privately owned, some by political parties or their affiliates; many others are controlled by or support a particular party; a law grants every citizen the right to publish.
The rights of ethnic and religious minorities are protected. The Saamis (Lapps), who make up less than one percent of the population, are guaranteed cultural autonomy by the constitution.
Both Finnish and Swedish are official languages of the country. In recent years, concern has risen about increasing instances of racist and xenophobic behavior. Finland receives on average 700 to 900 asylum seekers per year. To facilitate their absorption, the government has revised Finland's Aliens Law and adopted a new law promoting the integration of immigrants into Finnish society. Both laws took effect on May 1, 1999. Further reforms took place in 2000, allowing for more rapid processing of asylum claims filed by refugees from the so-called safe countries of Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.
Finns enjoy freedom of religion, and both the predominant Lutheran Church and the smaller Orthodox Church are financed through a special tax from which citizens may exempt themselves. The archbishop and the bishops of the Lutheran Church are appointed by the president.
Finnish workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, and an overwhelming majority belong to trade unions. The 1.1 million-member Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which is linked to the SDP, dominates the labor movement.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, consisting of the supreme court, the supreme administrative court, and the lower courts. The president appoints supreme court justices, who in turn appoint the lower court judges.
Gender-based equality is guaranteed by law. In 1906, Finland became the first country in Europe to give women full political entitlement, including the right to vote and hold office. Women hold an exceptionally high proportion of parliamentary seats.