Although Finland represents a model polity in many respects, its current democratic prospects are less bright. The overall legitimacy and trustworthiness of the usual pillars of representative democracy are deteriorating; electoral turnout is low; membership in political parties is declining; and as evident from polls, citizens no longer trust institutions such as the parliament and the government to the extent they formerly did. Revitalizing representative democracy obviously requires an input of participatory institutions, such as decisive referenda and forms of popular initiative. However, Finland’s political parties have so far shown no real intention to recognize the need for such measures. Finland’s long-established representative democracy is in need of change related to the very nature and foundations of the system. Attempts are now underway to reform the electoral system and to make it still more proportional. While this endeavor is praiseworthy in itself, it is clearly not enough. More demanding efforts at political engineering are called for.
External and internal security as well as foreign policy poses important challenges to the Finnish political system. First, Finland’s proximity to Russia is a key problem, calling for a solution in terms of alliance politics. However, there is a marked resistance to membership in NATO by the public. This has obvious spill-over effects on the attitudes of the political parties, for which NATO is a foreign policy option but not at present a policy. Second, current institutional arrangements in Finland divide the management of foreign affairs (EU affairs not included) between the president and the government. Besides being unnecessary and potentially faulty in terms of constitutional logic, this dual leadership creates uncertainty abroad and at home over foreign policy competencies. Divergent opinions exist between the government and the opposition as regards the functionality and desirability of the dual leadership arrangement. An attempt to resolve conflicts between the main parties via political committee in 2009-2010 achieved only marginal success. Given that constitutional amendments require qualified majorities, the arrangement is now likely to remain for years to come. Third, Finland’s willingness to integrate foreign immigrants has been clearly limited, and recent polls indicate that about 60% of the population is opposed to continued foreign immigration. Since the ageing of Finland’s population has negative implications on the workforce, an immigration policy must be rapidly assumed that promotes work-based immigration. However, the pending 2011 national elections and public opinion being what it is, political parties now hesitate to engage in drastic measures to promote immigration.
The executive capacity is noteworthy. Several factors and circumstances promote strategic governance; there is a fair degree of interministerial coordination; the government office has an independent evaluation capacity; and a large majority of cabinet issues are reviewed first by cabinet committees and working groups. Furthermore, interest associations and organized interest groups are widely consulted during the preparation of legislation. However, the local government sector still confronts problems as far as executive capacity is concerned. Tasks delegated to the municipalities are not adequately funded. It still remains an open question to what extent reforms aiming at reducing drastically the number of local government units and aiming also at restructuring administrative borders and divisions will really achieve a sounder economic basis and increased efficiency. The attempts at restructuring administrative geographies have not sufficiently considered the potential negative consequences for the rights of the Swedish-speaking population of Finland, which according to the constitution, must enjoy equal rights with the Finnish majority.