Finnish politician and president from 2000. A Social Democrat and former foreign minister and trade union lawyer, she was elected to be Finland's first female president in February 2000. Halonen, a popular, down-to-earth former leftist radical, won ahead of the opposition leader and former prime minister Esko Atho. Her performance as foreign minister since 1995 had been much admired, above all her smooth handling of Finland's European Union (EU) presidency during 1999. She was re-elected for a further six-year term as president in January 2006.
She took over office from Martti Ahtisaari. The role of the president, while retaining power in foreign affairs, had been restricted in domestic affairs. Halonen's pro-European but anti-NATO membership views were expected in 2000 to weigh on Finnish foreign policy. Halonen had described herself as a ‘relative pacifist’, and made plain her opposition to further NATO expansion that would simply antagonize Russia and threaten a new division on the continent. She asserted, however, that Europe should have no doubts of her readiness to take over as commander-in-chief of Finland's armed forces. Halonen said that her presidency meant that Finland was heading towards greater equality between the sexes, although there was still much work to be done to achieve it.
Born in a Helsinki, Halonen studied law at the University of Helsinki and, after being general secretary of the National Union of Finnish Students (1969–70), worked as a lawyer with the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions 1970–74. She joined the Social Democratic Party in 1971 and became a Member of Parliament (1979–90); Social Affairs and Health Minister (1987–1990); Justice Minister (1990–91), and Nordic Cooperation Minister (1989–91).