Åland Islands: Self Governing Islands

This is the fourth in a series of articles about self governing Islands and what we in Orkney can learn from their governance. The Islands Bill is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament and it will see more powers transferred to Orkney. 

Aland islands

The Aland Islands ( Mysid)

The  Åland Islands are part of Finland lying to the south west of it. As in Orkney it is not just one island but is made up of an amazing 6,700 islands of which 65 are inhabited. Today 40%  of the population of 28,000 live in the main town of Mariehamn.

The language spoken is Swedish. The islands were once governed by the Kingdom of Sweden and only became part of what was then known as the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809. Finland gained its independence from Russia in 1917. When this happened the Åland Islanders wished to return to Swedish governance. The issue was finally ‘settled’ in 1921 by The League of Nations who ‘awarded’ the islands to Finland. There were conditions.

“Finland was placed under an obligation to guarantee to the population of the islands their Swedish culture, language, local customs and the system of self-government. Åland had become demilitarised as a result of the peace negotiations in Paris in 1856 after the Crimean War. When the sovereignty issue was solved by the League of Nations in 1921, the demilitarisation of 1856 was confirmed. The convention also neutralised Åland. The demilitarisation was confirmed in the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Finland)

Finland, population 5,471,753, joined the EU in 1995. Like many self governing  islands Åland has a special relationship within the EU having agreed to membership after 2 referendums. The agreement of Åland was required for membership to take place.  The special relationship includes the sale of tax free goods to passengers travelling between the Åland Islands and other EU Member States. Åland is also a member of The Nordic Council.

Flag is Aland

Flag of Aland

The elected Parliament of Åland with its 30 members has control over:

  • education, culture and the preservation of ancient monuments

  • health and medical care

  • the environment

  • promotion of industry

  • internal transport

  • local government

  • policing

  • postal communications

  • radio and television

It can pass some minor laws for the islands, raise its own taxes and has a lump sum devolved to it from Finland. Very similar to the way Scotland receives money back from Westminster from taxes it has paid to the UK exchequer.

Finland retains control over

  • foreign affairs

  • most areas of civil and criminal law

  • the court system

  • customs

  • state taxation

In 2002 Åland adopted the Euro as its currency. The population enjoy a long life expectancy with an average of 81 years and a very low unemployment rate of 3.6%.  The main employment at 34% is in public services with tourism and transport also being important. Only 4% of the population are engaged in Agriculture.


Veivro, Aland (Eivid State)

Over several weeks The Orkney News has looked at different island groupings and how they use the degree of self governance that they have. Orkney has so many advantages with its low population density and highly qualified but ageing workforce. There are many variations and options available to how islands can be governed but the one thing remains constant – we all share the commonality of being islanders. Next week we will again feature another self governing island.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

You can find out more information here about Åland  and Statistics


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