Facts about Åland

Åland is an autonomous and unilingually Swedish region in Finland with its own flag; a blue flag with a yellow/red cross. Åland also has its own stamps, licence plates and its own top domain (.ax).

There are a total of 26,700 persons living in Åland in 16 different municipalities. Of them some 10,800 live in the only town in Åland, Mariehamn. The town was founded in 1861 and is today the centre for industry and politics. Here is also the Åland Government, called "Landskapsregering", located.

 

Typical for Åland
Unique for Åland is the untouched archipelago and the beautiful bedrock, worn smooth by the inland ice, with the typical red colour of the Åland granite. With its 6.500 islands Åland offers an island world where the sea is always present. Did you know that Åland has the most sunshine of all the Nordic countries from May through August?

Distinctive for Åland is also the midsummer poles with their colourful ornaments and the old-fashioned windmills. You find them for example at the Jan Karlsgården open air museum in Kastelholm. The museum also depicts a typical Åland farm from the end of the 1800's.

Åland is an autonomous, demilitarised, Swedish-speaking region of Finland. Åland consists of more than 6,500 islands and skerries, of which 6,400 are larger than 3,000 m2. The largest island is the main island of Åland, which makes up 70 per cent of the Islands' total land area and is home to 90 per cent of the population. The longest distance from north to south is 50 km and from east to west 45 km. Despite its relatively small size, there are 912 km of public roads in Åland.

 

Historical Milestones
1954 Åland receives its own flag.

1984 The first Åland postage stamps are issued.

1995 Together with Finland, Åland joins the EU.

2002 Mark is replaced by Euro as the currency in Åland.

 

Population
The population of Åland is currently at an all-time high. According to a travel memoir written by F.W. Radloff in the 18th century there were 11,000 people in the Islands at this time, spread across 80 different islands. In 1905 the number had grown to 22,000, living on 150 islands. Over the centuries many islands have been linked to each other or with the main island through bridges and embankments while others have been depopulated. The current population of 26,200 live on only 65 islands. Over 40 per cent live in the only town, Mariehamn.

 


 

Lagtinget - a Parliament
Åland's autonomy gives it the right to pass laws in areas relating to the internal affairs of the region and to exercise its own budgetary power. Åland's legislature, its "parliament", is known as lagtinget. The Parliament appoints the regional Åland Government, landskapsregeringen.

Åland's autonomy is regulated by the Act on the Autonomy of Åland passed by the Parliament of Finland. An amendment of the Autonomy Act must follow the same legislative procedure as constitutional amendment and requires the consent of the Parliament of Åland. The division of power between Åland and Finland can thus only be changed on a consensual basis. The current Autonomy Act, the third in line, entered into force on 1 January 1993.

In which areas is the Parliament entitled to pass laws?
The Autonomy Act lists the areas where the Åland Parliament has the right to pass legislation. The most important of these are:

- education, culture and the preservation of ancient monuments
- health and medical care, the environment
- promotion of industry
- internal transports
- local government
- policing
- postal communications
- radio and television

In these areas Åland functions practically like an independent state with its own laws and administration.Legislative Control
The laws adopted by the Åland Parliament are referred to the Finnish President, who has a right of veto only in two cases: if the Parliament has exceeded its legislative authority or if the bill would affect Finland's internal or external security.

The President bases his decision on the opinion of a body known as the Åland Delegation and occasionally also on the opinion expressed by the Supreme Court. Half the members of the Åland Delegation are appointed by the Finnish Government and half by the Åland Parliament.In which areas is the State the competent authority?
In those areas where the Åland Parliament does not have law-making powers, Finnish State law applies in the same way as in other parts of the country.

These include:
- foreign affairs
- most areas of civil and criminal law
- the court system
- customs
- State taxation

To ensure that Åland's interests are taken into account also in these areas, Åland has a representative in the Finnish Parliament. Åland's Member of Parliament is elected in the same way as other Finnish MPs.

How is the Åland Parliament elected?
The Parliament has 30 members, who are elected every four years by secret ballot under a system of proportional representation. The voting age is 18, but the right to vote and stand for election is also dependent on possession of right of domicile in Åland (see below).

 

Demilitarisation
Åland is demilitarised. This means that there may be no military presence here and that the Islands may not be fortified. Åland is also neutralised, and must therefore be kept outside the theatre of war in case of conflict.

When Åland was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1809 the Islands' new rulers initiated the construction of a large fortress at Bomarsund on the eastern side of the main island. During the Crimean War French and British troops attacked and seized the fortress, and at the ensuing peace negotiations held in Paris in 1856 Åland was demilitarised through a one-sided commitment from Russia.

When the League of Nations resolved the issue of Åland's constitutional affiliation in 1921 a decision was also taken to draw up an international convention. The convention, which confirmed the demilitarisation of 1856 and also neutralised Åland, was signed by ten states. Russia is not a party to the 1921 convention, but the 1940 Moscow Treaty on the Åland Islands and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty contain provisions on the demilitarisation of Åland. Neutralisation is not mentioned, however.

Those who have right of domicile and moved to Åland before the age 12 are exempt from military service.

 

Åland has had its own flag since 1954.

Right of Domicile
Right of domicile in Åland is a requirement for the right to:
- vote and stand for election in elections to the Parliament
- own and or be in possession of real property in Åland
- conduct a business in Åland

The limitation in the right to own or be in possession of real property was introduced to ensure that the land would remain in the hands of the local population. It does not prevent people from settling in the Åland Islands.

Right of domicile is acquired at birth if it is possessed by either parent. Immigrants who have lived in Åland for five years and have an adequate knowledge of Swedish may apply for the status, provided they are Finnish citizens. The Åland Government can, occasionally, grant exemptions from the requirement of right of domicile for those wishing to acquire real property or conduct a business in Åland.

Those who have lived outside Åland for more than five years lose their right of domicile.

 

The Municipalities
Åland is divided into 16 municipalities. As local government is a regional concern, the rules relating to municipality self-government are contained in an Ålandic law, i.e. one passed by the Parliament. The municipalities' decision-making power is exercised by the local council, which is elected by public ballot for a term of four years. Those who have right of domicile or have lived in Åland for three years are entitled to vote and stand for election.

Åland's largest municipality is its only town, Mariehamn, which is home to over 40 per cent of the Islands' population. Mariehamn was founded in 1861 and is the centre of political and economic activity in Åland. Out of the other municipalities on the main island, Jomala, Mariehamn's neighbour, is the largest, with about 3,400 inhabitants. The smallest municipality in Åland, and all of Finland, is Sottunga in the archipelago, which has a population of 130.

 

 

 

The Economy
Åland is a small society with an open economy that is dependent on trade with neighbouring regions. The Islands' location midway between two expanding economic centres, southern Finland and the Stockholm region, is a major advantage, but also makes Åland sensitive to economic fluctuations in its two neighbouring markets.

Åland has a large number of businesses and a long entrepreneurial tradition. There are currently about 2,600 businesses, of which about 700 are agricultural enterprises. About 20 companies, mainly shipping firms, banks and insurance companies, have more than 50 employees. More than 90 per cent have less than 10 employees, and many are one-man businesses.

Åland's economy is dominated by the service sector, particularly the maritime industry, which accounts for 40 per cent of local GDP. The capital-intensive shipping industry helps to raise Åland's GDP per capita, but income levels in Åland are not higher than the average for Finland. As Åland's shipping companies offer more workplaces than the local labour market is able to provide, the crews also include many people living in other parts of Finland and Sweden.

Underpinning the strong growth of tourism in Åland are the frequent ferry services. In the last few years the number of arrivals has been around 1.8 million. Most return the same day, but about 540,000 guest nights are registered each year. Åland's hotels and guesthouses have about 2,600 beds, and there are more than 2,000 holiday cottages. In the summer, many visitors arrive in their own sailing or motorboats, and stay in one of Åland's 20 or so guest harbours.

The industrial sector in Åland is small in comparison with those of neighbouring regions, but still plays an important role from an export perspective. As local industries process local farm produce and fish, their indirect employment effect is also significant. Åland also has an interesting high-tech plastics industry with worldwide exports, as well as metals, engineering, carpentry, printing and electronics businesses.

Despite their relatively modest returns, the primary industries, agriculture and fishing, play a vital role as providers of raw produce for the food industry in the archipelago and other sparsely populated areas. Small units combined with a favourable climate has encouraged local producers to specialise in crops like onions, Chinese cabbage, sugar beets, potatoes and apples.

Since the economic slump in the mid 1990s Åland's employment situation has been very good. One reason for this is the Islands' geographical location. The proximity to Stockholm and Helsinki has enabled many young people, in particular, to work and study even in times of economic weakness at home. Unemployment has long been low, with open unemployment currently at 1.8 per cent. A long-term need for staff in health and medical care as well as education is a problem that Åland shares with the rest of the Nordic region. Because of the large number of tourists who visit Åland in the summers the service sector is dependent on seasonal workers from outside Åland during high season.

In modern times shipping has been the dominating industry in Åland, and it has greatly contributed to the Islands' current wealth. The changes faced by the Ålandic shipping industry pose a clear threat to Åland's labour market and economy.

NATWEST ISLAND GAMES XIII 
ÅLAND 2009 
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