Åland – a self-governing island state

Åland is an autonomous part of the Republic of Finland. That is why the Åland Islands have their own parliament (the Åland Provincial Assembly) and government (the Åland Provincial Government). Such self-governance gives the people of Åland the right to make their own laws.

Charlotta Björklund

The author is Project Coordinator at the Åland Provincial Government.

The Åland Self-Government Act lists the areas in which the Åland Parliament and the Åland Provincial Government have legislative powers. The main areas are:

  • Education, culture, and protection of ancient monuments
  • Environmental issues
  • Health and medical care
  • Business and Economy
  • Internal traffic
  • Local government
  • Police
  • Post, radio, and television

In these areas, Åland is an almost independent state with its own laws and its own administration. For example, Åland has its own laws on nature conservation, fishing, and hunting.

There are also several sub-areas where Finnish laws are in force in Åland. These are:

  • National diplomatic services
  • Most civil and criminal law
  • Courts
  • Customs, coastguard, civil protection
  • State taxation

In some matters, Åland and Finland have joint legislative rights. One example is shipping, where commercial shipping and its shipping lanes are within Finland's jurisdiction, while the Åland Islands enact laws regarding other boat traffic and its fairways.

Why does Åland have autonomy?

Like much of present-day mainland Finland, Åland also used to be part of the Swedish Empire. At that time the Åland Islands had a fairly independent administration. After the Finnish War in 1808-1809, when Sweden had to give up Finland and Åland to Russia, Åland became part of the Grand Duchy of Finland.

When Czarist Russia began to disintegrate, a secret conference was held at the Åland Folk High School in August 1917 with representatives from all of the Åland municipalities. There, it was decided to apply to the King of Sweden to reunite Åland with its old motherland.

In December 1917, Finland declared itself an independent republic, invoking the same principle of self-determination of the people, to which the Ålanders also referred in support of their re-accession to Sweden.

Finland was not prepared to accept the wishes of the people of Åland, who were instead offered a form of internal self-government. However, Åland did not accept this, and even Sweden supported their wishes.

To resolve the conflict, the matter was transferred to the newly-formed League of Nations, which made a compromise decision in June 1921. Although Finland gained control of the Åland Islands, it had to guarantee the people of Åland the Swedish language, culture, local customs, and the autonomy it had offered in 1920.

At the same time, it was decided to demilitarise and neutralise the Åland Islands, which meant no soldiers were allowed.

The Parliament of the Åland Islands first sat on the 9th of June 1922. Today, June the 9th is celebrated as Åland's Autonomy Day.

The Provincial Government of Åland, Mariehamn.