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Åland, also called Landskapet Åland (Finnish Ahvenanmaa, also Ahvenanmaan maakunta) is a province of Finland with extensive autonomy. It consists of the archipelago of the same name in the northern Baltic Sea at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and mainland Finland. Swedish is the only official language in the province which, following a decision by the League of Nations in 1921, belongs to Finland as a demilitarised zone, but manages its internal affairs largely autonomously. Certain political and economic rights are also limited to Finnish nationals. Today, the islands’ economy is determined by tourism and shipping. The latter is favoured by special tax arrangements which allow tax-free shopping when trading with Åland.
The archipelago consists of over 6,700 islands and skerries and forms an archipelago at the southern entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the northern Baltic Sea. Åland is about 40 kilometres from the Swedish coast and 15 kilometres from the Finnish coast. The main island Fasta Åland with about 90 per cent of the inhabitants is located in the west, 40 kilometres from the Swedish coast and 100 kilometres from the Finnish coast.
The islands have a total land area of 1,553 km². Including the water areas of the Baltic Sea, the province has an area of 13,517 km². The total number of islands is 6,757 if the minimum size of an island is 0.25 hectares. The total population of 27,734 people distributed over 60 islands results in a population density of 17.9 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Åland is a relatively flat archipelago. The highest mountain is the Orrdalsklint in the north of Fasta Åland (municipality of Saltvik) with 129 m height.
Åland’s climate is temperate compared to mainland Sweden and Finland due to its island position in the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea warms the cold north-easterly winds in winter and cools the hot south-easterly winds in summer. Annual rainfall averages 541 mm per year, less than on the Swedish and Finnish mainland.
The average annual temperature is 5.5 degrees Celsius. The highest temperature ever measured on Åland was 31.3 degrees Celsius, the lowest -32.4 degrees Celsius. The average values for the individual months of the year from 1971 to 2000 can be found in the climate table below.
Åland belongs to the vegetation zone of the boreal coniferous forest. In addition to the predominant fir and spruce species, there are also numerous deciduous trees, especially oaks, ash trees, elms, maples and lime trees. The islands are also home to many species of orchids, most of which are among the fifty or so protected plants.
Åland is home to 25 species of mammals, including many rodents, but also red deer and roe deer. Due to the location at sea and the relatively mild climate, there is a richer bird life than on the Finnish mainland. The islands are home to over 130 bird species, including endangered waterfowl such as the mountain duck. The white-tailed eagle, which was virtually extinct throughout Finland in the mid-1970s, can be found in large numbers in Åland.
After Åland had been a battle ball between Sweden, Finland and Russia over the centuries, the Alnad question was finally decided by the League of Nations on 24 June 1921. After the decision of the League, the islands were to remain part of the state of Finland. However, in order to safeguard the nationality, language and culture of the Swedish-speaking population of the islands, various guarantees had to be given. Furthermore, the demilitarised status of the islands was to be restored.
Finland accepted the conditions and implemented them as supplements to the self-government already granted in 1920. On 20 October 1921, an agreement was signed in Geneva on the demilitarisation and neutrality of Åland, which was signed by all the countries bordering the Baltic Sea with the exception of the Soviet Union.
Åland’s right to self-government is guaranteed by § 120 of the Finnish Constitution. The details are laid down in a separate self-government act, which is in force today in the version of 16 August 1991 and is equal in rank to the Constitution. Åland has its own parliament, the Lagting (Parliament), and its own landscape government for decision-making in self-government matters. Parliament is elected by universal suffrage every four years. The landscape government is appointed by the Landtag.
The inhabitants of Åland are nationals of Finland. However, due to the self-administration law, there is a so-called right of domicile (Hembygdsrätt), which is parallel to this.
The inhabitants of Åland are nationals of Finland. However, due to the self-administration law, there is a so-called right of domicile (Hembygdsrätt), which is functionally similar to an Åland nationality. Only persons with åländisches Heimatrecht are allowed to participate actively or passively in elections to the Landtag and local elections. The acquisition of real estate on the islands and the commencement of business activities generally also require the right of domicile. Only Finnish nationals who have lived in Åland for at least five years without interruption and who speak Swedish can acquire the right of residence in Åland.
Åland is a member of the Nordic Council. On 5 September 2007, Åland adopted the Åland Document, which is intended to enable the autonomous regions of Åland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland to become equivalent members of the Nordic Council.
Åland is part of the European Union with Finland, but is exempt from the application of Community rules on the approximation of turnover taxes and excise duties. As a consequence, there is a tax border between the province and other EU member states as well as between Åland and the rest of Finland. Goods transported to and from Åland must therefore undergo customs clearance. Due to the tax frontier, tax-free shopping is still possible when travelling from Finland or Sweden to Åland. As in the rest of Finland, the official currency is the euro, but in Åland it is often possible to pay with the Swedish krona.
Åland’s economy is characterised by a high percentage of small and medium-sized enterprises. There are about 2,600 companies in the province. Of these, about 700 belong to the traditional agricultural sector. About 90 percent of the companies have fewer than ten employees. The unemployment rate has been very low for years and is often the lowest in Europe during the summer months. The unemployment rate at the end of September 2007 was 2.0 percent. Due to the great importance of tourism, the labour market is partly characterised by seasonal summer jobs, which means that unemployment is regularly the lowest during this period.
Transport and tourism
In addition to the traditional main agricultural activity, tourism, especially ferry transport, has become the most important economic activity in Åland. Thanks to the possibility of tax-free purchasing, shipping now produces 40 per cent of Åland’s gross national product. More workers are needed in this sector than are available on the åland labour market. Many employees from Finland and Sweden are therefore also employed on the åland vessels.
The large ferries of the Viking Line and Tallink Silja shipping companies depart from Helsinki, Turku, Stockholm or Tallinn. There are also ferry connections to the Swedish towns of Kapellskär and Grisslehamn. From the Finnish side you can also take the archipelago ferries from Vuosnainen and Galtby to Åland.
In 2005, under the auspices of the Åland Landscape Government, Air Åland, an airline of its own, was established with the broad support of the Åland economy. Air Åland flies daily from Mariehamn airport to Helsinki-Vantaa and on weekdays to Stockholm and back. The Swedish airline Avitrans Nordic Ab operates the flights for Air Åland, which carried 62,000 passengers on both routes in 2008. Turku Air flies two to three weekdays from Mariehamn Airport to Turku.
In 2004 Åland was visited by 224,800 guests. Most guests came from Sweden with 111,400, the second largest group came from Finland with 92,500 and Germany with 6,700. The islands have a dense road network with a total length of 912.7 km, of which 646.8 km are asphalted.