Thursday, February 16, 2006
Tiny island that's ready to stop Europe in its tracks
In the decade since they voted to join the European Union the islanders of the Aland archipelago in the Baltic Sea have been outvoted and overruled by Brussels, time and again.
Now Aland, a unique, autonomous region of Finland, is about to teach Brussels a lesson in democracy it may never forget.
Thanks to a quirk of early 20th-century history, Aland's 26,000 people are essentially sovereign co-rulers of their home nation of Finland. As such, they can veto any international treaty that Finland wants to enter, including EU treaties.
And the islanders are threatening to do just that when the European Commission attempts to revive the moribund EU constitution later this year.
But last week the archipelago's head of EU affairs, Britt Lundberg, travelled to Brussels - a day-long trek - to deliver a warning that dismally low public opinion on Europe could mean Alanders prevent Finland from ratifying the constitution.
The islanders' revolt has been brewing for some time. First, this community of Swedish-speaking Finns lost the right to fish at sea with traditional nets.
Then Alanders saw their beloved spring duck hunting virtually abolished. To the Alanders' final outrage, local laws on consuming "snus" or Swedish chewing tobacco, are about to be quashed by the European Court of Justice.
Brussels is trapped in a "Catch 22" situation of the EU's own making. Snus, a form of chewing tobacco, has been outlawed by EU fiat in every nation except Sweden, which secured a -special opt-out as a condition of its joining the EU, and in every region - except Aland.
Aland is not allowed to defend its law before the justices in Luxembourg because the court recognises only nations. So the court is set to convict and fine Aland, without allowing the island's government to plead its case.
The head of the Aland government, Roger Norlund, admitted that he did not even like snus. To him, the row is philosophical. "Aland finds small-scale solutions to its problems. But the EU model is one of large-scale solutions, and harmonisation."
Tomas Grunér, a navigator on the big boats, uses snus "24 hours a day". "It keeps me relaxed," he said. "I thought the EU was a good idea, but now I think it sucks."
OK. There is at least ONE place left in Europe where men have a backbone and tradition matters. Notice it isn't france?
-Warner Todd Huston