Halonen vehemently opposes government proposals on constitutional reform
President Tarja Halonen
On Friday, Finland's President Tarja Halonen issued a strongly-worded rebuff to government proposals to amend the Finnish Constitution.
In a statement issued in connection with the routine Friday session of the Council of State, Halonen declared that the changes being put forward could have a harmful impact on the consistency and sustainability of Finnish foreign policy.
She charged that the limits to be placed on Presidential powers have the result of increasing the powers of the government, rather than those of Parliament.
One practical implication of the draft proposal would mean that Finland is formally represented within the EU by the Prime Minister, thereby reducing the powers of the President in directing foreign policy.
Halonen began her statement by observing that the position of the Constitution as the foundation of other legislation and the entire societal edifice is a generally accepted principle.
Hence, she argued, it should enjoy as broad support as possible within both Parliament and among the public at large.
The President noted that in the preparation of the wide-ranging reforms to the Constitution that took effect from 2000, there had been an effort to gather broad political support for the moves.
"One objective was to ensure the durability of the Constitution as a document. It is just ten years since the new Constitution came into force. I have been the only President of the Republic during this period. A longer time-span and the experiences of the terms of several presidents would provide more perspective for the assessment of the need for changes", she wrote.
Halonen charged that the current preparations are marked with a sense of haste that is not derived from the workings of the constitution as such.
"No such problems of jurisprudence have emerged that could not have been resolved by turning to the cooperation required in the present document."
"Alongside the political objectives of the parties themselves, it would be well to observe the public's interest in the selection and actions of their President and the entire system", Halonen commented.
According to the government proposal, Chapter 8, Section 93 under "International Relations" would be unchanged from the 2000 version of the Constitution. The first sentence of this section states that. The foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government. "However, the suggested amendment to Section 58 ["Decisions of the President"] would hamper in a very significant way the President of the Republic's scope for directing foreign policy", Halonen said.
The amendments to the clause in question would mean that any disputes between the President and the government would be resolved by a cabinet majority, provided that this reflects the stance of Parliament on the issue.
Any amendments that are made to the Constitution will not in practice apply to President Halonen herself, because the changes envisioned would not take effect until 2012.
Tarja Halonen's second term in office will end in 2012.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Poll: Majority oppose cutting Presidential powers in foreign policy (21.12.2009)
Government reiterates: Prime Minister and not President to attend EU summits (4.12.2009)
The last President? (6.12.2009)
Finnish Constitution (unofficial translation, .pdf file)
Constitution of Finland (Wikipedia)