Country profile - Distinguishing factors (Finland)

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Country introduction - Factors that distinguish Finland from many others
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015


General information

Finland is situated in the Fennoscandian region in northern Europe roughly between 60° and 70° N and 20° and 30° E. Finland comprises the northernmost point in EU and also the easternmost until Cyprus joined the EU. About a fourth of the area is to the north of the Arctic Circle.


Biogeographically, a vast majority of Finland belongs to the boreal region with the northernmost parts belonging to the Alpine region[1]. Sometimes the southernmost parts are seen as hemiboreal.


The location in the north affects the climate and the natural conditions in general. During the period 1971–2000, the coldest month in the south was February (-4.9 °C) and in the north January (-14.1 °C). In the south, the monthly mean temperature in January-March is above zero only occasionally. The highest monthly mean temperatures occur in July. During 1971–2009, it was 17.2 °C in the south and 14.3 °C in the north[2].


The south-north length of the country (1 157 km) also affects the conditions between the regions in Finland. The differences in temperature may be large between south and north, and onsets of the seasons[3], length of the growing season, and other climate related phenomena vary from south to north considerably.


The climate of Finland has maritime and continental features. The location of Finland allows for flow of air masses from the Atlantic Ocean, from the continental area in the east, and from the Arctic. An essential feature is the warming effect of the Gulf Stream extending over Norway and Sweden to Finland, making the climate exceptionally warm compared to other countries on the same latitude.


At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 days in the summer, which is compensated during winter when the sun does not rise for 51 days.


Finland is rich in surface waters, with a total of 187 888 lakes and ponds larger than 500 square metres, and rivers totalling 25 000 kilometres in length. Almost a tenth of the country‘s land area is covered by water. Finland’s lakes are shallow and thus contain only 235 cubic kilometres of water (Main characteristics of the surface waters in Finland). The shallowness makes the lakes apt to contamination by pollution.


Finland has plenty of aquifers – a bit over 6 000 – and they are not distributed evenly across the country. Particularly widespread aquifers are in areas with extensive deposits of permeable sands and gravels formed during the last ice age like the Salpausselkä deposits in Southern Finland. In general, the aquifers are rather small and depth of the water table varies but is typically about two to five metres below ground level.


Approximately 60 % of the total water supply distributed by Finland’s waterworks consists of groundwater including water from artificially maintained reservoirs of groundwater fed from lakes and rivers.


Forests cover a major part of Finland. Depending on the definition, forest land covers around 70 % and the total forestry area about 78 % of Finland's land area. Scots pine is the most common tree species, about 50 % of the volume, the share of Norway spruce is about 30 %, and the rest is mainly birch and other deciduous species.


The population is 5 351 427 (31 December 2009), and the land area is 303 907 km2, inland waters cover 34 534 km2, and the sea area is 52 479 km2 and thus the total area of Finland is 390 920 km2. The area of Finland increases by 7 km2 annually due to the post-glacial rebound since the last ice age.


Figure 1. The approximate location of the geographical centre[4] (blue) and population centre[5] (green) of Finland

DIVE Figure1

Population density in Finland is 17.4 persons/km2 (excluding the sea area). The density is the lowest in EU; Sweden is quite close (22.3), and the third country in this respect is Estonia (30.9). Norway has an even lower population density of 15.5 persons/km2. The population density is higher in the south (see Figure 1).


The share of built-up land is now roughly 4 % of the land area. Agricultural area comprises about 9 %, forests 77 %, and other land 10 %.



Finland is a democracy and has been independent since 1917. The President of Finland[7] is selected by direct vote for a term of six years; two consecutive terms are allowed. The unicameral Parliament[8] consists of 200 members with a term of four years.


In 1906, Finland's national assembly became the first parliament in the world to adopt full gender equality by granting equally to men and women the right not only to vote but also to run for public office.


The Ministry of the Environment was established in 1983. The Greens of Finland won its first parliament seats in 1983 and 1995 the Greens gained a minister seat, making it the first European green party to be part of a state-level Cabinet.


A reform of state regional administration took place on 1 January 2010. The provinces and state province offices were discarded and the other regional units, including the Regional Environmental Centres, reorganised and merged. In the new system, the 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment are responsible for

  • Economic development, labour force, competence and cultural activities
  • Transport and infrastructure
  • Environment and natural resources.

The six Regional State Administrative Agencies are responsible for

  • Basic public services, legal rights and permits
  • Occupational safety and health
  • Environmental permits
  • Fire and rescue services and preparedness
  • Police.


Finland’s municipalities are self-governing entities. Municipalities are responsible for providing their residents with statutory basic services. The most important of these are social welfare and health, education and culture, the environment, and technical infrastructure[9].


Age structure

The age structure of the population and the anticipated changes in the structure are also a specific feature of Finland[10]. The old-age dependency ratio (defined as the projected number of persons aged 65 and over expressed as a percentage of the projected number of persons aged between 15 and 64) is expected to be the highest in EU around 2020–2030. After that, the increase in the ratio will slow down considerably, and after around 2035 the dependency ratio will be below the EU average[11].


See also:, This is Finland

[1] Biogeographical regions of Europe (European Environment Agency)

[2] Finland's climate (Finnish Meteorological Institute)

[3] Thermal seasons (Finnish Meteorological Institute)

[4] midpoint of Finland without sea areas and islands

[5] the point where the combined distance between the point and the inhabitants is smallest

[6] Administration ( Public services)


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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