Plenary sessions of the Government

As a rule, plenary sessions of the Government are held every Thursday at 13.00 in the Government Session Hall. The sessions are chaired by the Prime Minister, or, if necessary, by the minister deputising for them. If the minister deputising for the Prime Minister is also unable to attend, the session is chaired by the most senior minister present.

In addition to the Prime Minister and other ministers, plenary sessions of the Government are attended by the Chancellor of Justice. When the business before the session relates to the University of Helsinki, the Chancellor of the University is also entitled to take part.

A plenary session of the Government has a quorum when five members are present.

The Prime Minister decides the order for the presentation of business at plenary sessions. Each item on the agenda is presented by a presenting officer from the ministry concerned. These are, however, not obliged to attend if the business is to be decided without debate based on the presenting officer’s written proposal. Presenting officers are called to attend when ministers wish to amend, supplement or discuss the proposal.

Issues raised in plenary sessions

Government plenary sessions make decisions on matters that are far-reaching or important as matters of principle and on proposals for decisions to be submitted to the President of the Republic. Matters decided on in plenary sessions include government proposals, reports and communications to be submitted to Parliament, as well as government statements and decrees. Government plenary sessions handle approximately a thousand items of business every year.

Division of the Government's decision-making authority between the plenary session and the individual ministries in governmental and administrative matters is provided for in the Constitution and the Government Act. More detailed provisions are laid down in the Government Rules of Procedure. 

Working procedures in plenary sessions

The handling of business in government plenary sessions is based on a presentation agenda containing the decisions proposed by the presenting officials. The order of presenting ministries is laid down in the Government Act.

Items for which a presenting official is not called to attend are dealt with under the decision agenda procedure. Items on the decision agenda are generally approved without amendments. Ministers have the right to remove an item from the agenda or request that relevant documents be produced so the item can be examined in more detail. The Government also has the right of deferral.

Under the presentation procedure, presenting officials are called to the session to present their items of business. Again, ministers have the right to remove an item from the agenda or request the relevant documents. The Government also has the right of deferral. Unlike in the decision agenda procedure, the items dealt with in the presentation procedure may be amended before a decision is made.

Voting procedure

Ministers have the right to propose their own solutions to matters discussed in plenary sessions. A vote must be taken in cases where more than one proposal is put forward. Proposals by a minister do not need the support of other ministers in order to be voted on. A proposal by a presenting official that does not receive the backing of a single minister is dropped without a vote.

The Government follows a collegial voting procedure in which all proposals put to the vote are decided on in a single vote. In the voting process, each minister expresses their opinion in turn in reverse order of seniority. The chair is the last to express their view. The proposal supported by the majority is the final decision. In the event of a tie, the chair's vote is decisive.

A minister who wishes to express a dissenting opinion on an issue, but does not wish to present an alternative solution or a dissenting opinion, has the right to enter a statement in the government minutes.


The presenting official and all ministers attending government plenary session are responsible for the decisions taken in the session. Any minister presenting a dissenting opinion for entry in the minutes is, however, released from responsibility.

Ministerial responsibility is both political and legal in nature. Political responsibility and control are mediated by the Government and Parliament, for example through government statements and reports, and questions and interpellations by members of Parliament. The legality of actions by ministers is subject to investigation by the High Court of Impeachment.

Presidential sessions

Presidential sessions are generally held every other Friday at 11.00. In these sessions, the President of the Republic takes decisions on the presentation of the minister within whose mandate the matter falls. The order of presentation is the same as for government plenary sessions. The session is presided over by the Prime Minister.

The Government is responsible for the presentation of matters before the President of the Republic. Where necessary, the government plenary session may decide its position by voting. The presenting minister is then obliged to present the matter to the President according to the position supported by a majority within the Government.

All ministers attend the presidential sessions of the Government. To be quorate, the sessions must be attended by at least five members of the Government in addition to the President of the Republic. The Chancellor of Justice is also present in presidential sessions. 

As the President of the Republic alone takes the decisions at presidential sessions, no vote is taken on business presented. To release themselves from responsibility, ministers may, however, have their opinions entered in the minutes. The President may request the production of documents to facilitate more detailed examination of items raised.

When the business before the session relates to the University of Helsinki, the Chancellor of the University is also entitled to take part while these particular issues are on the table. The same applies to the Commander of the Defence Forces when the President of the Republic has transferred a military command matter for decision at a presidential session of the Government. The permanent secretary of the relevant ministry, or another official deputising for them, is present during the handling of the ministry’s business.

During the summer, presidential sessions may held at the President’s summer residence Kultaranta in Naantali. Instead of the permanent secretaries of the ministries, the state secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office is present.