History of the Government

From Senate to independent Government  


The War of Finland in 1808-09 brought the transfer of Finland from Swedish rule to become an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian empire. In 1809 the new Grand Duchy of Finland received its own central administration under the leadership of a Governing Council, from 1816 the Imperial Finnish Senate. This was the direct predecessor of what was later to become the Government of Finland following independence in 1917. The Senate was responsible for the general administration of the Grand Duchy. It contained an Economic Division and a Judicial Division, each under the formal chairmanship of the Russian Governor-General. Both were provided with a Finnish Vice-Chairman in 1822.


The Economic Division was divided into a number of administrative departments, each headed by a member of the Senate. From 1858, members of the Senate were formally recognized as senators. The number of administrative departments under the Grand Duchy varied from five to nine. Some members of the Economic Division did not have specific responsibility for an individual department. The Judicial Division contained no subordinate administrative departments. The Economic Division acted as the supreme administrative and judicial authority for civil administration and economic affairs, while the Judicial Division was responsible for the administration of justice. Supreme authority for overseeing the legality of government was vested in the hands of the new office of Procurator.


The senators became ministers


Towards the end of 1918, the names of the Senate and its administrative departments were changed by decree, with the Economic Division of the Senate becoming the Government of independent Finland and the administrative departments becoming Government ministries. The senators similarly became ministers, with the Vice-Chairman of the Economic Division becoming Prime Minister. The Senate Chancery was renamed the Prime Minister's Office, while the Procurator became the Chancellor of Justice. The Judicial Division of the Senate was separated from the executive wing and divided in two to produce the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court.


The Government is to be understood, on the one hand, as the body which convenes for the general governing of the country, consisting of the Prime Minister and other ministers, and, on the other hand, the decision-making body for governmental and administrative matters consisting of the Government plenary session and the ministries.


The Chancellor of Justice and his office are also part of the Government in this broader sense.


Ministries were preceded by Divisions


In addition to the Prime Minister's Office, the independent Republic of Finland began with a total of 11 ministries: the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of War, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Food.


In 1922, the Ministry of War was renamed the Ministry of Defence, while the Ministry of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs became simply the Ministry of Education. The same year also saw the closure of the Ministry of Food, although this was reconstituted under the name of Ministry of Supply for the difficult years in 1939-1949. In 1968, the Ministry of Social Affairs was expanded to become the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. In 1971, the Ministry of Agriculture became the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. A year earlier, in 1970, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works had been split in two to form the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Labour. The responsibilities of the latter were later expanded to cover the entire field of labour policy, a change reflected in 1989 in a change of focus in the Finnish name for the Ministry, although Ministry of Labour has been the term used in English throughout. The next change occurred in 1984, with the creation of the new Ministry of the Environment. In September 2000, the Ministry of Transport was renamed the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Ministry of Employment and the Economy began its operations on 1 January 2008. It comprises the duties handled by the former Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Labour and the Regional Development Unit in the Ministry of the Interior. The name of the Ministry of Education was changed to the Ministry of Education and Culture on 1 May 2010.