Born in Turtola (subsequently renamed Pello), Paavo Lipponen spent his childhood and youth in Kuopio.
He held various posts in the Social Democratic Party organization, but he first came into the political limelight when he was appointed as secretary to the then prime minister Mauno Koivisto in 1979. Frequently having to substitute for the busy prime minister, he was soon dubbed: "varamanu" (ersatz manu ("Manu" being short for Mauno)).
He has been a member of parliament from 1983 to 1987, and again since 1991. Lipponen was elected as the leader of the Finnish Social Democratic Party in 1993, and he led the party to victories in the parliamentary elections of 1995 and 1999. Now Lipponen is speaker of Finnish parliament, after handing over the office of prime minister to Anneli Jäätteenmäki.