Finnish municipalities and regions

Functions of municipalities and joint municipal authorities

Two nursing students

Finnish cities and municipalities have a strong social impact and, on a European scale, an exceptionally wide range of functions. Local authorities arrange basic public services for their residents, including social welfare, health care, education and culture, and technical services. Local authorities are responsible for about two third of the public services, the remaining one third being the responsibility of the central government. 

The Finnish Local Government Act of 2015 stipulates that municipalities shall strive to advance the well-being of their residents and to promote sustainable development on a local basis. Most of a municipality's functions are statutory and based on special legislation. Municipalities may, by their own decision, engage in other functions as well. New responsibilities or duties cannot be assigned to local authorities, nor can they be deprived of existing responsibilities or rights, except by passing legislation to this effect.

The basic public services are mostly financed by municipal tax revenue, central government transfers to local government and service charges.

Statutory functions of a municipality

Finnish municipalities have over 500 statutory functions. Below is a list of the most important ones given by the area of responsibility.

  • Social services: securing a basic livelihood, rehabilitative work activities, services for people with disabilities, child welfare, care of the elderly.
  • Health services: primary care, specialist care, oral health care and environmental health services.
  • Education and culture: early childhood education and care, basic education, general upper secondary education, vocational education and training, library and information services, youth work and sports services.
  • Technical services: planning, maintenance of streets and other public areas, construction of buildings and infrastructure, traffic, and water supply and sewerage systems.

In addition, municipalities have official duties such as building control, environmental protection, rescue services and public waste management.

Optional functions of a municipality

A municipality may, by its own decision, engage in functions that it deems necessary and which serve the municipality's residents. The optional functions are not regulated in any way.

A municipality may not undertake central government functions or engage in a purely commercial or industrial activity. What is more, the EU State aid rules may restrict measures to promote business and industry in particular.

The following are examples of Finnish municipalities’ optional functions:

  • ensuring the conditions for business activity
  • supporting associations and free civic activity
  • providing job creation services
  • engaging in international activity
  • supplying energy
  • maintaining harbours
  • building and maintaining information networks.

Finally, there are functions which are laid down by law, but left to the municipality’s discretion to arrange. For such discretionary functions, local authorities may require a permit from a state authority and may also receive state support for financing them.

Examples of discretionary functions arranged by local authorities include:

  • general upper secondary education
  • vocational education and training
  • public transport
  • museum activities and exhibitions
  • dance
  • circus
  • theatrical and musical activities.