Fact sheet Finland

Finland (Finnish name Suomi) is a republic which became a member of the European Union in 1995. Its population is 5.2 million. The capital Helsinki has 560 000 residents. Finland is an advanced industrial economy: the metal, engineering and electronics industries account for 50 % of export revenues, the forest products industry for 30 %. Finland is one of the leading countries in Internet use. Today, there are more mobile phone than fixed network subscriptions.

Forests cover three quarters oof the country’s surface area of 338 000 sq. km. Other outstanding features of Finland’s scenery are some 190 000 lakes and approximately as many islands. The principal archipelago and the self-governing province of the Åland Islands lie off the south-west coast while the main lake district, centred on Lake Saimaa, is in the east.

Geography and Nature

Finland is situated in northern Europe between the 60th and 70th parallels of latitude. A quarter of its total area lies north of the AArctic Circle. Finland’s neighbouring countries are Sweden, Norway, and Russia, which have land borders with Finland, and Estonia across the Gulf of Finland. Forest covers about 75 per cent of Finland, while bodies of water – mainly lakes – cover aalmost 10 per cent. Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe, with 23 million hectares under forest cover. There are approximately 190,000 lakes and about 180,000 islands. Europe’s largest archipelago, which includes the self-governing province of the Åland Islands, lies off the south-west coast.


One notable effect of Finland’s northerly position on the globe is that the four seasons of the year are clearly distinct from one another. The climate is marked by cold winters and warm summers. The mean annual temperature in the capital, Helsinki, is 5.3 degrees Celsius. The highest daytime temperature in southern Finland during the summer occasionally rises to almost 30 degrees. During the winter months, particularly in January and February, temperatures of minus 20 CCelsius are not uncommon. In the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set for about 73 days, producing the white nights of summer. In the same region, during the winter period, the sun remains below the horizon for 51 days, creating the polar night known in Finnish as kaamos.

The People

The population of Finland is 5.2 million. Finland is the sixth largest country in Europe in area, with a low population density of 17 persons per square kkilometre. Most Finns, some two thirds, now live in urban areas, while one third remain in a rural environment. The capital, Helsinki, and the neighbouring towns, Espoo and Vantaa, form the fast growing Helsinki metropolitan region, which is now home to almost a million Finns. Other important towns are Tampere and Turku in southern Finland, and Oulu in the north. Ethnically, Finland is still a very homogeneous country. The foreign community accounts for about two per cent of the population. The biggest groups of immigrants are from Russia, Estonia and Sweden. Among them are a considerable number of people of Finnish descent.


The Finnish language is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family that includes, in one branch, Finnish, Estonian and a number of other Finnic tongues, and in the other, Hungarian, by far the biggest language of the Ugric group. Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, the latter spoken as a mother tongue by about 6 % of the people. The official status of Swedish has historical roots in the period when Finland was a part of the Swedish realm, a period that lasted from the early 13th century until 1809. Another indigenous language is Sami, spoken within tthe small community of Sami people in Lapland (also known as Lapps). English has become the most popular foreign language and is widely spoken.


There has been complete freedom of worship in Finland since 1923. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the country’s biggest denomination while a fraction of Finns belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church. Both denominations are designated as state religions.

Education and Research

Finnish people have a high standard of education. All children receive compulsory basic education between the ages of 7 and 16. Education beyond the age of 16 is voluntary, taking the form of either a three to four-year course in upper secondary school or 2 to 5 years at a vocational school. Finnish higher education consists of two sectors: universities and polytechnics. There are 20 universities and 29 polytechnics in the country. Nearly 60 per cent of the population have completed post-primary education and 13 per cent have a university degree or comparable qualification.In recent years there has been national focus on research and product development, with special emphasis on information technology.


1155 The first missionaries arrive in Finland from Sweden. Finland becomes part of the Swedish realm.

1809 Sweden surrenders Finland to Russia. The Czar declares Finland an autonomous Grand DDuchy with himself as constitutional monarch represented by a governor general.

1917 Finland declares independence from Russia on December 6.

1919 The constitution is adopted and Finland becomes a republic with a president as head of state.

1939 – 40 The Soviet Union attacks Finland and the Winter War is fought.

1941 – 44 Fighting between Finnish and Soviet forces resumes in the Continuation War. Some territory is ceded to the Soviet Union but Finland is never occupied and preserves its independence and sovereignty.

1955 Finland joins the United Nations and, in 1956, the Nordic Council.

1995 Finland becomes a member of the European Union (EU).

1999 Finland backs European monetary union.

2002 Banknotes and coins of the EU’s single currency, the euro, enter circulation.


The head of state is the President of the Republic who is elected for a period of six years and may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. The President is chosen by direct popular vote, with a run-off between the two leading candidates if no candidate wins an overall majority in the first round of voting. In 2000, the Finns elected their first female president, Tarja Halonen. The Government must enjoy the confidence of parliament (the Eduskunta) which has 200 members elected every four years. In

recent decades, the three biggest parties in parliament have consistently been the Social Democratic Party, the Centre Party, and the moderate conservative National Coalition Party. Multiparty coalition governments, the prevailing type, usually include two of the aforementioned parties. The leader of the Government, the Prime Minister, normally comes from the party with the most seats in parliament. Finland’s present constitution, adopted in 2000, allocates more power to the Prime Minister than its predecessor did.

Foreign Policy

In its foreign policy Finland promotes ssustainable development, stability and security in the international community and endeavours to strengthen Finland’s international position. Finland attaches special

importance to principles such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights, in line with long-established Nordic values.As a member of the European Union since 1995, Finland is part of an influential body in world politics. Finland is an active member of the Union and supports a further strengthening of its Common Foreign and Security Policy, including its capability to aact in crisis management. Finland is also a firm proponent of the Union’s enlargement process.

Finland’s foreign and security policy is based on military non-alliance and credible national defence. Finland cooperates with NATO in the PfP programme. Finland also has long eexperience of participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

Finland works actively to strengthen multilateral cooperation, the United Nations and international law in general. Finland has launched the Helsinki Process which aims to improve current global governance structures.

Industry and the Economy

Finland’s road to industrialisation started in the 19th century with the harnessing of forest resources. Forests are still Finland’s most crucial raw material resource, although the engineering and high technology industries, spearheaded by the Nokia corporation, have long been the leading branches of manufacturing. The industrial structure of Finnish exports has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The wood and paper industry accounted for well over half of exports less than thirty years ago. Now the paper industry is only one of tthree major export sectors, the other two being electronics and metal and engineering. Electronics is the most spectacular success story in Finnish exports. Its remarkable growth in the 1990s was mainly based on mobile phones and other telecommunication equipment. As for the country’s general prosperity, the net wealth of Finnish households is at the average level for member states of the European Union.

The Media

Finland has approximately 200 newspapers, of which more than a quarter are published 4 to 7 times aa week. The total circulation of all newspapers exceeds 3 million. Most newspapers are bought on subscription rather than from news-stands. Finland also has a very high number of magazines; there are about 2,800 genuine weeklies, and if publications appearing at least four times a year are added, the figure reaches 3,500. The print media dominate the mass media economy in Finland and newspaper circulation per capita is the highest in the EU and third highest in the world.

Finland’s national public service broadcasting company, YLE, operates five national television channels. There are two privately owned TV channels with national coverage and some thirty local TV stations. Finland has five national radio channels, four of them public service stations and one commercial. Overall, YLE runs thirteen radio channels while the total number of commercial stations exceeds 60.


Music is arguably the Finnish art form most esteemed abroad. An essential feature of Finnish musical education is that even ordinary comprehensive schools can provide enhanced music teaching. This generates a genuine interest in making music, thus educating an open-minded and active future concert public. The towering figure in Finnish music was for many years exclusively the 20th century composer Jean Sibelius. Today, however, Finland hhas an exceptionally high number of significant composers and conductors. Finnish pop and rock music have also achieved international recognition in the new millennium.

World famous are also Finnish design and architecture. Finnish design became a concept created by its strong tradition, originality, stylishness, high-quality materials and good manufacturing. Products from design-conscious companies such as Marimekko, Iittala, and Arabia have been exported very successfully to the Americas, continental Europe, and Australia. Industrial design has also played an important part in increasing Finland’s competitiveness in the 21st century.

The 1950s marked the final breakthrough in international awareness of Finland as a land of progressive architecture. The most influential Finnish architect has undoubtedly been the functionalist Alvar Aalto.