Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

Finnish island Aaland threatens to leave the EU

  • Aaland upholds sales of a kind of tobacco on ferries that outside of Sweden is forbidden in the EU (Photo: EUobserver)

Aaland, a small semi-autonomous Finnish island, has threatened to leave the EU unless Brussels allows its case on the tax-free sale of snuff to be heard at the European Court of Justice.

The commission has asked that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declares Finland in breach of EU regulations for letting Aaland uphold sales of a kind of tobacco - forbidden in the EU - on ferries to and from the island.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Meeting with communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom on Monday (6 February), Britt Lundberg of Aaland's government argued that if the island is not allowed to plead its own case before the ECJ, public opinion in Aaland about the EU will turn negative.

In the long run, Aalanders, who this year have seen a number of bans from Brussels, such as a recent hunting ban, may consider leaving the EU.

Ms Lundberg explained that Aaland could not support a European treaty without even having a say in matters concerning the island's own interior politics.

Aaland became a part of Finland in 1921, but kept self-governance over internal matters like education, culture, healthcare, post and police matters, while foreign policy, customs and monetary matters are handled from Helsinki.

When Finland joined the EU in 1996, Aaland agreed to join on condition that it could keep some of its crucial laws, such as keeping Swedish as the only official language, and having complete demilitarisation of the island.

Another matter of importance to Aaland was that the waters surrounding the island remain their own - not EU waters - allowing for tax-free sales for passenger ferries from neighbouring countries.

Swedish snuff creating the furore

The ferry-sale of Swedish style tobacco called "snus", a brown moist powder that users shape into a wad and stick under their upper lip, is a major source of income for the island, although technically illegal.

An EU ban on moist snuff applies to the whole bloc except Sweden, which has claimed that the use of snus is part of the Swedish traditional heritage.

Swedish-speaking Aaland declared that the cultural and historical bond to Sweden should make the island state eligible for the same exception to the rule.

Finnish users, therefore, have to take ferries to Aaland and Sweden to fill up on personal stocks. Finland has announced, however, that it will side with the commission on the matter.

You say tomato I say tomato

Finnish state secretary for EU affairs Antti Peltomaaki told this website that the matter boils down to matters of interpretation of the accession treaties and other EU laws.

"Aaland wanted snus to be classified as a grocery, like in Sweden. But Finland has decided that for health reasons, the EU ban should be supported."

As to the fact that no representative from Aaland has been called to Luxembourg and the ECJ to be heard in the snus case, Mr Peltmaaki said that the law did not give any room for manoeuvre.

"If the court in Luxembourg let us send an Aalander to the oral hearing to fight its own battle, we would, but it is not the way the procedure regulations are," he said, adding that all the files had been open to the Aalandish government throughout the whole case.

Another island state for secession?

Under the current EU treaties, there are no rules on how and if a country can leave the union.

The rules simply say that "this treaty has been entered for an unlimited time".

Theoretically, Aaland could very well leave the EU by tearing up the accession treaty and "negotiating it in reverse", but such a 'secession treaty' would have to be agreed upon by the other member states - including Finland.

To date, the only similar example is when Greenland went from being a full member of the EU as part of the Danish commonwealth to becoming a part of the Overseas Lands and Territories (OLT) grouping in 1985.

Poland snubbed twice in EU summit fiasco

[Updated] Poland tried and failed to block EU summit conclusions shortly after failing to block Tusk’s re-election as Council chief, prompting bitter accusations.

Poland isolated in bid to remove Tusk

Poland appears increasingly isolated in Brussels as it seeks public support to unseat Donald Tusk as president of the European Council.

French candidates avoid EU debate

In their first TV debate, the main candidates for the April election only briefly discussed the country's EU policies, with far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron taking aim at each other.

News in Brief

  1. Russia invites EU diplomats to occupied Crimea
  2. UK parliament in lockdown after reported attack
  3. Brussels attacks remembered with minute of silence and noise
  4. Magnitsky's lawyer injured near Moscow
  5. Trump to travel to Brussels on 25 May for Nato summit
  6. Polish defence minister accuses Tusk of treason
  7. Fillon slips in polls as new allegations emerge
  8. Brexit summit for EU-27 will be on 29 April

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Advertisements
  2. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  3. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  4. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  6. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  7. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  8. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  10. Malta EU 2017Consumer Protection Laws to Be Strengthened by EU-Wide Cooperation
  11. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  12. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst

Latest News

  1. EU declaration to voice unity in troubled times
  2. Terror attack shuts down UK parliament
  3. Catalonia and Scotland at core of Europe's geopolitical conundrum
  4. La présidentielle française sous cyber-alerte maximale
  5. EU doing well in global energy ranking
  6. Child migrants endure 'abysmal conditions'
  7. French socialist woos Europe with new vision
  8. EU to Macedonia: 'Stop playing with fire'