Forging autonomy in a unitary state: The Åland Islands in Finland

Eve Hepburn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As one of the most stable unitary states in the world, Finland has largely been overlooked in the literature on multi-level political systems. However, this categorisation of Finland neglects the substantial autonomy that has been fought for, and accorded to, the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands over the twentieth century. Åland is the only province that has been granted significant legislative powers vis-à-vis the Autonomy Act (1921) and thereby constitutes a federalised arrangement. It possesses its own regional assembly and regional executive with exclusive powers in the fields of education, health, culture, industry and policing and elects a single representative to the Finnish Parliament. As the Åland party system diverges significantly from Finland's (Finnish parties do not compete on the island), this has led to a vertical disconnect between the Finnish and Åland governments. This article will explore the struggles for, and attainment of, autonomy for the Åland Islands within the centralised Finnish state, and the effects of this on intergovernmental relations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-487
Number of pages20
JournalComparative European Politics
Issue number4-5
Early online date25 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • autonomy
  • Åland Islands
  • multi-level governance
  • political parties
  • regionalism


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