What is so special about 21 April 2009?
Very little, in fact. It is just the anniversary of the EU Treaty of Lisbon in the Åland Islands (population 27,500). On this day a year ago, the authorities in autonomous Åland registered the arrival of the request by the President of Finland to approve the amending treaty with regard to the areas subject to local legislation.
About a month and four plenary sessions later the Åland Parliament sent the proposal to its Legal Committee, responsible for legal business which relates to the autonomy of Åland and to international treaties which are applicable to Åland.
No report has appeared. The status file this morning tells us that the matter is still being prepared.
Approval of the Lisbon Treaty is not listed on the preliminary agendas of the three coming plenary sessions.
How should we interpret the situation?
Two conflicting forces are at work. The European Union is a project of deepening integration, in other words lowering barriers. The driving force of local politics in Åland is to strengthen the particular traits of local society (language, culture, political and economic rights, administration, businesses, legislation etc.). The special status of Åland was accepted by the European Union when Finland became a member state in 1995; the Åland Protocol, enshrined by the Lisbon Treaty, even condones practices, which are contrary to core internal market principles (as long as discrimination of outsiders is practiced equally).
The Lisbon Treaty affects areas of autonomous Åland legislation only marginally, but a positive response requires a two thirds majority in the local parliament with 30 members.
The slow response has little to do with the Lisbon Treaty ‘per se’, but has been used as a bargaining chip to press for concessions from the Finnish Government with regard to EU affairs. Åland already is fully involved in the preparation and conduct of these matters, so the aspirations have taken aim at representation (Council, European Parliament, Court of Justice), a harder nut to crack.
If a coming proposal to approve the Lisbon Treaty fails to get the required qualified majority, it would lead to an unprecedented situation. The amending treaty would not be applicable in a part of the territory of a member state. But what would follow, if the rest of the European Union had moved forward from the Treaty of Nice?
Finland would have to notify the European Union, and it would have to negotiate some sort of new status for Åland. But what would the EU accept today, given that exemptions increasingly complicate the application of EU legislation in an expanding union?
If the Treaty of Lisbon falls in the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland or Poland, the problem disappears. But so does Åland’s bargaining chip.
NB: Finland has concluded its ratification process. Åland decides only with regard to its own territory.