07:39 GMT +326 July 2017
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    Flag of the southwestern Finnish Aaland Islands of the Baltic Sea flying in Mariehamn. (File)

    Autonomous Nordic Isles Seek to Extend Unparalleled Self-Rule

    © AP Photo/ JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
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    Finland's Åland Islands currently enjoy one of the broadest autonomies available, yet are striving to further extend their self-rule. A recent proposal from the parliamentary Åland Committee would make it easier for the autonomous islands to take over legislative powers in decisive matters.

    The over 500-page proposal submitted by the Åland Committee chair and former Finnish President Tarja Halonen contains both major and minor amendments, as well as symbolic name changes to stress Åland's unique position in the Finnish state, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.

    According to the proposition Åland will have a better opportunity to influence issues of national importance at the state level through a new mechanism where bills can be prepared by the competent minister, the Åland minister, the Åland Council or the Prime Minister. Most notably, it will be easier for Åland to take over the right to collect taxes and decide on labor issues.

    However, the proposal is far from unanimous as was criticized by Åland politicians, most notably from the independence-seeking movement Ålands Framtid ("Åland's future"), as insufficient. The obvious goal of Åland politicians was to take over taxation rights by 2022. The legal possibility for it still exists, however, it requires approval from the Finnish parliament, which previously expressed fears of Åland becoming a self-governed tax heaven. Other reservations from representatives of the Åland parliament included the archipelago's representation in the European Parliament.

    "The committee is nevertheless in agreement about the major guidelines, which facilitates the parliament's work. It also makes it easier for the government to come up with a bill that can later be approved by both parliament and the Åland Council," Communications Minister Anne Berner told Yle.

    ​The Åland Islands are an autonomous and demilitarized region of Finland, situated at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea halfway to Sweden. The archipelago of roughly 30,000 is Finland's only region to have Swedish as the only official language.

    At present, the archipelago already enjoys a broad autonomy, maintaining its own flag, government, police force and airline and web domain (.ax), in addition to being a member of the Nordic council. Åland's parliament has extensive authority, including the right to veto any attempt to limit those powers by the Finnish government. Finally, the archipelago has its own postage stamps and can issue its own passports.

    Ålanders are also exempt from conscription. In recent years, however, calls for abolishing Åland's demilitarized status, which the archipelago has enjoyed since 1856, were heard, most notably from Finnish defense minister Jussi Niinistö, who called the demilitarized Åland ("a military vacuum").

    This unparalleled level of autonomy was obtained after the declaration of Finland's independence from Russia in 1917. As the Swedish-speaking islanders voted overwhelmingly to leave and join Sweden, Finland refused to give up sovereignty, and the League of Nations allowed Helsinki to keep the islands as long as they were granted significant rights and protections.

    This year, when Finland marked its 100-year anniversary, Åland had the chance to celebrate two times. Åland's special 100-year anniversary was celebrated in early June to mark the founding of the so-called Åland movement, whose aim was to promote re-unification with Sweden, the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported. The same day, Åland's blue, yellow and red flag was proudly added to the collection of Finland emojis, the local newspaper Nya Åland reported.

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    autonomy, self-rule, Aland Islands, Scandinavia, Finland
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