Åland is a group of islands with an extensive archipelago situated between Finland and Sweden. Åland is an autonomous, demilitarized region within the republic of Finland. Åland became autonomous in 1921, when the Ålanders first tried to reunify with their old mother country Sweden, but Finland was unwilling to accept this. The dispute was referred to the League of Nations in Geneva, which decided that Åland should remain a part of Finland but receive a wide autonomy. As a result, Finland has to protect the Swedish language, culture and local customs of the Ålanders. The Ålanders also have their own government and parliament, their own budget and the right to legislate in areas such as education and training, healthcare, trade and industry, municipal administration and traffic and transport. Åland also has one seat in the Finnish Parliament.
Åland has been a member of the EU since 1995 but remains outside the fiscal union, which means it has customs frontier with other countries, including Finland. Another specialty is that indirect taxation will not apply in Åland. These exemptions were essential to safeguard the future of Åland’s ferry industry, and with that, the communications to and from the islands. The currency is euro.
The region consists of thousands of islands and rocky islets of which more than 6 500 are named and 60 inhabited. The population totalled 28 900 persons at the end of 2014. Åland covers a land area of 1 553 km², but including water area the territory amounts to 13 325 km². The nature on the Åland Islands is unique and relatively unspoiled. The landscape, as well as the extensive archipelago, is open and varied.
The geographic situation places special demands on both internal and external communications. The nearest markets are the Finnish and Swedish mainland which constitutes an actual transportation distance approx. 500 km in both directions. These geographic conditions also contribute to accentuating the large regional differences within Åland, with the main economic activities being heavily concentrated to Mariehamn, the only city on the islands. Åland is a small region with an open economy and thus highly dependent on trade in goods and services with surrounding areas.
Shipping, agriculture and fishing have long been Åland's basic industries although tourism is ever expanding. The tourist branch is, however, very seasonal. Shipping is the hub of the Åland economy and it is easy to see its connections with the land-related industries. The variety of educational courses offered at secondary level is relatively comprehensive and flexible. There are few opportunities, however, to pursue further studies at university level, which is why students, who aim at taking a university degree, leave the islands for a period of time.