Flag of Finland

Finland country brief

Overview

The Republic of Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union with a population of 5.4 million (October 2013) spread over 338,145 square kilometres. The Åland Islands, off the south-western coast, are an autonomous, demilitarised administrative province of Finland. Under the Finnish Constitution, Finland is a bilingual country with Finnish and Swedish as official languages. The capital of Finland is Helsinki. Finland celebrates its National Day (Independence Day) on 6 December.

Political overview

System of Government

The Republic of Finland is a parliamentary democracy with a republican constitution. The unicameral parliament (Eduskunta) has 200 members directly elected from 15 multi-member constituencies every four years.

Political developments

The current President is Mr Sauli Niinistö. Mr Niinistö was elected by popular vote on 5 February 2012 and took office on 1 March 2012. The next presidential elections will be held in approximately February 2018.

Prime Minister, Dr Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party), and his new coalition government were sworn in on 24 June 2014. This followed the resignation of former Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen to pursue a position in the European Union. The five-party coalition comprises the majority of National Coalition Party along with the Social Democrats Greens, Swedish People's Party of Finland and Christian Democrats. The True Finns, Centre Party and Left Alliance are in opposition. The next parliamentary elections will be held before the end of April 2015.

Foreign Policy

Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995, along with Sweden and Austria, and was one of the first EU countries to join the euro zone in 1999. Finland supports development of the EU's European Security and Defence Policy and is a non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Economic overview

Finland’s economy has been more resilient than those of many other European countries to the euro area’s economic and debt crises. It is one of only three euro zone countries to have maintained its triple-A credit rating throughout the crisis. Nonetheless, Finland experienced a real GDP contraction of 1 per cent in 2012 and 1.4 per cent in 2013. The forecast for growth in 2014 remains low. Unemployment was at 7.6 per cent in September 2013, up from 7.1 per cent in 2012.

Finland has few natural energy resources. Nuclear power currently supplies almost 30 per cent of Finland’s electricity. The Finnish Parliament approved the construction of three new nuclear reactors (Finland currently has four reactors) in order to meet increasing energy demand and reduce carbon emissions. Work on the fifth reactor, on Olkiluoto Island, started in 2005 but has experienced considerable delays and cost overrun and is not expected to go online until 2016. Parliament approved plans to build the sixth and seventh reactors in July 2010 but construction has not yet commenced. Finland's other energy options include increased use of natural gas and electricity imported from Russia. Renewable energy sources account for around 25 per cent of Finland's energy mix.

Bilateral relationship

Australia and Finland share warm bilateral relations, underpinned by strong people-to-people links through the sizeable Finnish community in Australia. The 1920s and 1950s saw the main migration waves from Finland to Australia. In the 2011 census, 22, 420 people in Australia claimed Finnish ancestry.

Australia established diplomatic relations with Finland in 1949. Australia has non-resident accreditation to Finland from its embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, and also has an honorary consulate in Helsinki. Finland has an embassy in Canberra and consulates in all states and the Northern Territory.

Australia and Finland signed a bilateral social security agreement on 10 September 2008, which came into force on 1 July 2009. The agreement provides improved social security protection to people who have lived or worked in both Australia and Finland. Other agreements between Australia and Finland include a Working Holiday Maker Arrangement and a Double Taxation Agreement.

High-level visits

High-level visits are important for promoting cooperation and understanding between Finland and Australia. In his former role as Minister for European Affairs and International Trade, Dr Alexander Stubb, led a business mission to Australia and met with Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP in December 2013. The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, then-Minister for Small Business, Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness, visited Finland on 5-6 August 2012. The Hon Kevin Rudd visited Helsinki as Foreign Minister on 16 and 17 May 2011 for the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. Then-President Tarja Halonen visited Australia in January 2007.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Total two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Finland in 2013 was A$894 million (our 46th largest merchandise trade partner). Australia's exports to Finland in 2013 totalled A$69 million comprising mainly coal and alcoholic beverages. Finland's exports to Australia in 2013 totalled A$825 million, and included paper and paperboard, civil engineering equipment and parts, specialised machinery and parts, and mechanical handling equipment and parts.

For information on doing business in Finland, please see Austrade’s website.

Updated July 2014