Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

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AX-22100 Mariehamn, Åland, Finland
Tel. +358 18 15570
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Publication about
the Åland Example


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On Monday 11 January 2010 the seminar "Strategic options for Åland in the EU" was held in the town library of Mariehamn. The seminar is based on the researcher Sarah Stephan's report "Regional voices in the European Union - regions with legislative power and multi-level-governance. Perspectives for the Åland Islands."

Sarah Stephen demonstrates how different ways of looking at the EU can have effects on the methods for influence chosen by regions. She also indicates that there are more ways of gaining influence than those normally considered, and since these methods do not need to be expansive they can also be useful for smaller regions with limited resources.
A few possible alternatives for Åland is to increase the presence in Brussels, to offer expert knowledge within special areas of expertise, and to increase the knowledge of Åland at a national level as well as at a European level through for instance civil service exchanges.

The most common way of thinking about the role of regions within the EU is in terms of regional blindness, in other words that the EU is targeted at member states and that it is blind to the needs of regions with legislative power. This view of the EU can give rise to a rather narrow focus on formal mechanisms, with the result that regions focus solely on gaining a more formal and institutionalized influence in the EU, for instance through demands for a parliament seat and access to the European Court of Justice.
An alternative way of looking at the governance of the EU is through the perspective of multi-level governance.
Mechanisms are then still viewed as important, but this perspective demonstrates that there are considerably more ways and opportunities for promoting ones interests within the Union. Regions can exercise influence for instance through networking, through the Committee of the Regions, through regional representation in Brussels and through contacts with Members of the European Parliament and with the Commission. Such strategies can give immediate effects, but they can also in the long-run influence mechanisms through for instance having them incorporated into the treaties.
Sarah Stephen argued that Åland already works on influencing mechanisms, but that there is an unused potential within the framework of multi-level governance. Åland could strengthen its regional entrepreneurship. Amongst the examples for how this could be done it was mentioned that Åland could more clearly profile itself within its special areas, for instance shipping.
Through being included in the Finnish delegation, Åland's special adviser in Brussels has diplomatic status, which gives access to information and contacts but which also means that the adviser cannot go against Finland's position. Stephan sees the fact that Åland has succeeded in appointing a special adviser to the Swedish Peoples Party as a successful example of regional entrepreneurship, but even the special adviser has limited space for promoting questions of relevance to Åland. Many regions, even small ones, have their own offices in Brussels, through which they can unhindered promote their own questions. This could be a model also for Åland. Other means of increasing the knowledge about Åland at a national as well as at a European level, for instance through civil service exchanges, were also discussed.
Stephen also raised the question of the democratic deficit and the lack of transparency within the EU. She argued that such criticism is justified, but also that a consequence of criticising the lack of democracy within the EU should be to make sure that the discussion at home of possible strategies of influencing the EU should be as open as possible.
After the presentation a discussion was held where the 15 members of the audience engagingly discussed different ways of relating to the EU. Amongst other things, it was suggested that Åland is today mainly reacting to EU-questions, but rarely proactively promoting questions that are close to heart. To actively try to share knowledge within its special areas can be a method of helping others and at the same time strengthening one's own profile.
The report, which is included in the series ‘Reports from the Åland Islands Peace Institute', can be downloaded here.