The article describes the Finnish regions from a number of different viewpoints. It delineates the overall politico-administrative architecture of Finland in order to place the regional councils in context. Thereafter it follows a delineation of the basic characteristics of the regions, and the tasks of the Finnish regions, emphasising both their formal characteristics as well as the dynamism of conducting the tasks. Then, the endings and conclusions with challenges facing the regions in the current socio-economic development are discussed.
The political structure of Finland is formally two-fold consisting of the national and the local level of governments. Regions, however, play a role in the Finnish politico-administrative system too; they refer to geographical entities with a long historical background. Secondly, there are regional councils, which have specific tasks, but lack the independence of a political actor more involved with local governance.
The regional councils play different roles in the Finnish politico-administrative system. They deal with technical issues of land use planning, and administer the EU Structural Fund appropriations. They also represent the municipalities and coordinate, more or less, the economic and social development in the regions.
In history, there have been a number of proposals put forward on how to conduct necessary reforms in the regions. A common feature in these proposals is the strengthening of regional councils, and a shift of tasks from the national government regional agencies to the regional councils. A recent proposal, based on discussions of the regional directors, puts forward four scenarios for the future.
In scenario one, regions become a new kind of service province that gather the existing municipal federations and the government’s Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment under the control of direct democracy. The mechanism to introduce this would be general election.
In scenario two, municipalities are essentially larger than they are now and are capable of providing most of their services. Large regional councils under democratic control are responsible for regional development and the most advanced special health care and polytechnic training.
Scenario three is based on large municipalities being controlled by a strong national government. Scenario four focuses on regional councils in 2010 in a situation where no structural reforms have been achieved. Municipalities and regions just drift along, and public nance is in a state of crisis. As it was referred to at the beginning of the paper, the number of inhabitants in the northern and eastern regions is decreasing, and hence the question of balanced territorial development and the best means to achieve it are at stake as well.
Regional councils represent municipal interests. The Finnish regions represent their area and inhabitants in a multitude of ways. Their main tasks focus on spatial planning, but development and coordination are important tasks too. During recent years their role has been grow- ing. The role of the regions has to be seen from a number of angles. In order to fulfil their tasks, they have to be able to define their role in the organisational network.
In other words, we can see regions facing different challenges in order to be successful in the current political climate. Finland has in the second decade of the 2000s experienced structural changes, which have caused turmoil. Regions in Finland are municipally based organisations. In other words, they represent the integrated voice of the member municipalities, and o er a forum for them. The membership is compulsory. Large and small municipalities may look at the regional council differently based on what extent it advocates their interests.
Regional self-government is still a goal, not a reality. One decisive step towards this direction would be popular elections. One further factor undermining the need of municipal cooperation is the trend of increasing municipal size. In addition, in the spring of 2014 the Finnish government decided to reform the health care system. According to the plans there will only be five social and health care regions; however, the details of the reforms are still open to discussion. In recent years, in 2014 in particular, there have been discussions on the social and health services and their organisation. Even now, hospitals, mentally handicapped care, and vocational education, have been inter-municipal responsibilities.
The new plan is to create regions in 2019. The regions would coordinate social and health services, and decide which services and to what extent they will be produced by the local government, private enterprises and non-governmental organisations. The regional council members would be elected by the citizens.
In this sense there is a lot of scaling and rescaling going on in Finland, which probably seems to also a elect the regions and regional councils.
For the full report on Finland, see here.
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.