Å​LAND: Small archipelago is subject to the whims of Finland

The National:

It is famously one of the most advanced nations on earth which scores highly in all the rankings of civilised countries, so why would any part of Finland want to leave?

That is the feeling of a determined group of people in Åland, the island archipelago which is, by history and culture, a Swedish enclave within Finland.

The Åland Movement for self-determination is 100 years old and grew out of the chaos at the end of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Finland had seized its chance to declare independence from Russia in December, 1917, but in Stockholm in January 1918, Åland Movement leaders claimed that more than 90 percent of the Åland population wanted to go back to being Swedish.

The figure was challenged but there is little doubt that the majority of the Åland people felt more connected to Sweden than Finland – they spoke Swedish, after all.

Sweden recognised Finland’s independence immediately and a Finnish delegation had been welcomed by both King Gustav V and the government in December. But what to do with that bit of Finland that was saying stubbornly that it was Swedish?

The destiny of Åland was finally settled by the League of Nations, which in 1921 determined that Åland should remain Finnish, but with considerable autonomy and that has remained more or less the situation ever since.

Almost no one in Åland wants greater integration with Finland, and indeed the Finnish Government has recently been examining the case for even greater autonomy.

The Future of Åland (AF, or Ålands Framtid in Swedish and Ahvenanmaan tulevaisuus) party has been one of the driving forces for greater autonomy and even independence –the stated aim of the party is to make Åland an independent state. It has enjoyed a sort of two steps forward, one step back existence.

At the 2003 elections, the party won 6.5 per cent of the popular votes and two out of 30 seats. In the October 2007 elections the FoA increased its share of the vote, taking 8.1 per cent of the popular vote and keeping two out of 30 seats. In the 2011 elections, AF took another step forward, winning 9.7 per cent of the vote and three out of 30 seats. In the 2015 elections, however, the party slipped back to 7.4 per cent and two seats once more.

The latest proposals from the Finnish Government have met with a brusque response from AF.

They stated that the proposals “contain a number of simplifications as regards the possibilities for the Åland islands to take over – however, all areas of importance for the autonomy of the Åland islands, including the levying of taxes, remain subject to the decisions of the Finnish parliament.

“Consequently, the Åland islands can continue to decide nothing on their own, but are fully in the hands of Finnish politicians” – doesn’t that sound familiar to Scots?

AF continued: “The Åland Islands will never have full autonomy without the right to decide on their own economy.

“The professor of political science Barry Bartmann wrote in his book a framework for an independent Åland: ‘The gift of sovereignty is nothing less than a means to define or at least shape the architecture of the country’s internal and external economic space.’

Referring back to the original League of Nations agreement, AF stated: How much can we rely on Finnish promises and / or on the Finnish legal system vis-à-vis the Åland islands? The answer is zero.

“It is shown repeatedly, not only from political quarters, but also from the supreme court where the supreme court interprets the issues to Finland’s advantage at the expense of the autonomy of the Åland islands” – again a situation not unfamiliar to Scotland. AF have another point that resonates here – “an unanswered question in this context is whether the Finnish parliament can amend the constitution without the approval of the Åland government.”

AF continued: “It means, in plain language, that the Finnish state will continue to ‘grab’ Åland taxes and charges and not allow the Åland islands to develop their economies themselves.

“The future of Åland is a guarantee that we will be able to take care of ourselves.”


THE FAROE ISLANDS: Could an independent Faroe Islands provide an EU template for Scotland?

The National:

In this series we have not had to look very far to find peoples who are working for greater self-determination and independence, and the nearest of them all are the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands.

Just a few miles nearer to the Shetlands than Norway, the Faroe Islands have autonomous status within the Kingdom of Denmark, but many people on the island want to go further and have full independence, a status they voted in favour of in 1946 in a consultative referendum but which the Faroese Parliament was unable to process.

Next year they will have the chance to ensure that they will eventually get a vote on full independence because a referendum is to be held on April 25, 2018, to approve – or not – the new constitution of the Faroes which will guarantee the right of the people to be consulted in a referendum should there be a call for a vote on either independence or greater integration with Denmark.

The Faroese Government led by Prime Minister Aksel V Johannesen has been working to build broad support for the new constitution, both in the Parliament and amongst the 50,000 people on the islands – that landmark population figure was reached earlier this year.

Leaders of both coalition and opposition parties in the Faroes worked to find consensus, based on a proposal that had been under development for several years, before the referendum was announced earlier this year.

Prime Minister Johannesen said at the time: “My task has been to consolidate a spectrum of views in order to achieve as broad a consensus as possible on this fundamental matter for Faroese society.

“It is no secret that the political parties have divergent views on certain aspects of the proposed constitution. This has had an influence on the process so far.”

It is very much the case that the constitutional arrangements are being put in place because many Faroese people and several leading politicians would like to see a referendum on independence.

If that vote goes ahead and the Faroe Islands become fully independent, there could be a template for Scotland to follow, because at the moment, the Faroes are not part of the European Union – they voted to opt out when Denmark joined the EEC in 1973, and from the 1990s onwards the islands have had free trade agreements with the EU and also an agreed fisheries policy with the EU as well as trade deals with three EFTA countries, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Similar deals for an independent Scotland outside the EU would seem very possible then.

Meanwhile, the Faroe Islands are seeking greater autonomy from Denmark in any case, and have already applied to join the Nordic League and the World Trade Organisation in their own right.

Should there be a Yes vote to approve the constitution next April, the Faroes could even face a vote on full independence during 2019, but first of all that Yes vote has to be won.

Announcing the referendum date, Prime Minister Johannesen said: “The Faroese constitution will define our identity as a nation and our fundamental rights and duties as a people, including our right to self-determination.

“It will also be a safeguard against the abuse of power. This will be clearly reflected in the requirement that the Faroese people must be consulted by referendum on questions related to further independence from, or further integration with, Denmark.

“The same will also be the case in relation to membership in supra-national organisations, such as the EU. The Faroese constitution will move the ultimate decision-making power from the Parliament to the people on such fundamental questions.

“This will be a triumph for the Faroese people and for democracy in the Faroe Islands.”


FLANDERS: Nationalist movement is thriving in the heart of European Union

The National:

The European Union has been at crisis point in recent years over referendums by nations and peoples seeking to leave larger states and countries wanting to leave the EU itself. While Brexit has been by far the biggest shock to the whole EU project, there is a country which could soon be riven straight down the middle and that is the nation which hosts most of the European Union’s major institutions, so much so that “Brussels” has become shorthand for the EU.

For Belgium is currently seeing a remarkable debate over its own future, due to the rise in strength of the nationalist movement in Flanders.

Flanders is the northern part of Belgium, home to the Dutch-speaking Flemish people, which contains Brussels. Wallonia is home to the southern French-speaking people known as the Walloons.

To confuse matters, there is also a German-speaking community of Belgium based around Liège, but in general, neither they nor the Walloons are seeking the break-up of Belgium itself.

At present the Flemish are also not unanimous in seeking independence – far from it as polls consistently show a solid majority against separation. Many people in Flanders do want greater autonomy, however, and the right to self-determination.

Of the 6.5 million population of Flanders, most live in urban conurbations such as Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels itself. One of the most advanced areas of Europe in the Middle Ages, Flanders is again in the forefront of Europe’s political, cultural and technological developments and consequently is much more wealthy than post-industrial Wallonia.

The Flemish nationalist movement, as in other stateless nations, is politically split, but the largest party, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA or New Flemish Alliance) is very much dedicated to civic nationalism and a new federal Belgium.

The N-VA recently restated its official policy on what it calls “confederalism”. They said: “Belgium is the sum of two democracies. Flanders and Wallonia differ thoroughly on all major issues such as social security immigration, taxes, and labour costs. This country needs change. No state reform like the six previous ones. No state reform in which Flemings receive money, bits and pieces of powers in exchange for a big bag. If we really want to change something, we need to change the structures.

“The N-VA therefore chooses confederalism. This way we can address our own problems with our own solutions and our own pennies. And then we can also decide on how and in which domains we will work together. Not like today because we have to. But because we want to. Because we both get better.”