In 2010, Åland was given the right to constantly have its own flag hoisted together with the flags of Finland and the EU at Finland’s EU representation in Brussels.
The law gives Åland the right to stand outside agreements between Finland and foreign nations. A separate referendum was therefore held in 1994 to decide whether Aland would join the EU together with Finland. A majority was for an accession, but during the membership negotiations, Finland, at the request of the Åland Islands, enforced that, like the Canary Islands, Åland would be a separate tax area within the EU. Åland was also allowed to retain the so-called home-town right, which means that only people living in Åland can own land and real estate or run businesses there.
Åland has had its own representative in the Nordic Council since 1970.
Traditionally, the Ålanders depended on a combination of arable farming, livestock management and fishing. Nowadays, the islands’ economy is dominated by shipping, trade and tourism. Baltic fisheries still have some significance, as do fish farms.
Many tourists visit the Åland archipelago with their beautiful bays, islands and views with open sea. Visitors can rent bicycles, canoes, kayaks or hike around the islands. Most tourists come from Sweden and the Finnish mainland.
Ferry traffic to the ports of Åland increased significantly when the EU in 1999 abolished tax-free sales on board ships between EU countries. As Åland is outside the EU’s tax area, tax-free sales could continue on vessels going to the Åland port. A setback came in 2008 when the EU banned snuff sales on Åland ferries outside Åland.
Gross domestic product (GDP) per inhabitant is higher in Åland than in other Finnish landscapes, and unemployment is relatively low. Since 2002, the euro is the only legal currency in the islands.
Ferry services link Åland with Sweden, Estonia and the Finnish mainland. There is an airport in Mariehamn. Air traffic, which goes to Sweden and Finland, is managed by Finnair and AirÅland. Åland lacks rail. Local traffic is handled by buses and by boats that travel between the Åland Islands.