Parliament's right to receive information

The Constitution requires the Government to inform Parliament of all proposals on which decisions are to be made in the European Union whenever these fall within Parliament's competence (section 96). These are referred to as Union matters.

The Constitution also gives the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee an unlimited right to receive from the Government information on the preparation of matters in the EU (section 97). Parliament is thus entitled to receive information on all matters, either because they fall within its competence or because a committee has asked for information or the Government has considered it necessary to provide information because of the nature of the matter.

Information on EU proposals in Union communications

The Government must inform Parliament of draft legislation and other matters falling within its competence in the form of Union communications. These are generally prepared by the relevant ministry and approved by the Cabinet Committee on European Union Affairs. The Government decides on the content of a Union communication and then submits it to Parliament as an official document in Finnish and Swedish.

According to the Constitution, the Government must communicate EU proposals to Parliament without delay. As a rule the Government expresses its views on a proposal within a few weeks. If the Government is unable to decide what position to take on a matter, it must submit a communication to Parliament by the time the Grand Committee takes the matter up for discussion.

The Speaker refers a Union communication to the Grand Committee (or the Foreign Affairs Committee) and decides what special committees should issue statements to the Grand Committee. Announcements concerning the referral of a matter to a committee are made in plenary session.

The Grand Committee reviews a proposal together with the government communication and committee statements on the matter. It may also hear the relevant minister, civil servants and outside experts.

In general the Grand Committee expresses its views in a brief statement that is placed on the record and sent to the Government. In important matters the Grand Committee may also issue a statement in which it explains the reasoning behind its position in greater detail.

Statements prepared by the special committees and statements sent to the Government by the Grand Committee are published as parliamentary documents in Finnish and Swedish. Like all parliamentary documents they are available on Parliament's website.

The Government and ministries must inform the Grand Committee and the appropriate special committee of significant changes in a proposal. This is particularly important if changes require the reevaluation of Finland's position or the rethinking of a position already approved by Parliament.

Europe communications

Parliament has the right to ask for and receive information on matters being considered in the EU's organs in any policy area. This right is not limited to matters that fall within Parliament's competence. In such matters the way in which information is supplied to Parliament and internal procedures are less formal than in the case of legislative matters.

The Government informs Parliament of matters that do not strictly fall within its competence in the form of a Europe communication, which is generally prepared by a ministry. In most cases a Europe communication contains the same kind of information as a Union communication, but their content may vary depending on the nature of the matter. Europe communications are prepared by the relevant ministry or according to the Government's procedure for coordinating EU matters. The most important Europe matters may also be discussed by the Cabinet Committee on European Union Affairs, which is chaired by the Prime Minister.

Europe communications are sent directly to the Grand Committee and then referred to a special committee on the basis of their content. The special committees decide independently whether to issue a statement on the matter.

The Grand Committee does not generally take a formal stand on a Europe matter. Instead it informs the Government of any committee statements on the matter. A similar procedure is followed if a matter concerns the Common Foreign and Security Policy, in which case the Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for considering the matter.

Grand Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee hear ministers before Council meetings

Ministers brief the Grand Committee on matters up for discussion at European Council meetings and the position the Government intends to take on these matters.

The Prime Minister represents Finland in the European Council. Before and immediately after a European Council meeting he provides the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee information regarding the agenda. The Minister for Foreign Affairs briefs both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Grand Committee on matters concerning the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Ministers generally appear before a committee on the Friday preceding a Council meeting. Before the committee meets, each member is given a copy of the Council's agenda and the relevant ministry's comments on the items on the agenda, together with the position the Government intends to take. When the committee meets members can ask ministers and civil servants questions and express their opinions on the issues that are to be addressed by the Council.

After a Council meeting the relevant ministry submits a written report to the Grand Committee (and in the case of the Foreign Affairs Council, the Foreign Affairs Committee as well) within a few days. The minister also provides information concerning a recent Council meeting the next time he appears before a committee to talk about a coming Council meeting. A minister who has been forced to diverge from the position agreed on in advance must submit a report and justify the decisions that have been made.