Finland: The Limits of the Unitary Decentralized Model

Stefan Sjöblom

in The Oxford Handbook of Local and Regional Democracy in Europe

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199562978
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

Finland: The Limits of the Unitary Decentralized Model

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  • Regional Political Studies
  • Comparative Politics



After more than seven centuries as a part of Sweden and one century as an autonomous grand duchy of Russia, Finland gained its independence in 1917. The long period of Swedish rule undoubtedly influenced the Finnish legal and social system. Conquered by Russia in 1808, Finland was ruled by the Czar of Russia under old Swedish constitutional laws. Two years after gaining independence from the weakened Russia, Finland enacted its first own Constitution Act. This Constitution Act of 1919 retained the leading principles of the 1906 Parliamentary Act. It was a compromised between republican and monarchist ideals. Following the two wars against the Soviet Union and the period of urbanization and industrialization, Finnish welfare state and administrative institutions underwent a transformation. These developmental processes were similar to that of Nordic countries however lagging slightly behind. Finland' societal development allowed for an improvement in social conditions and Finland's administrative development allowed for the gradual transfer of responsibility for the production of welfare state services from the state administration to the municipalities. This article focuses on Finland and the limits of its unitary decentralized model of governance. It also discusses several challenges faced by the Finnish subnational democracy and the local government. These challenges were partly due to the limitations of the unitary decentralized model, characterized by a large number of small municipalities, lack of an all-purpose organization and representative bodies at the regional level, and regional cleavages.

Keywords: Finland; Finnish welfare state; Finnish administrative institutions; unitary decentralized model; limits; challenges; Finnish subnational democracy; local government

Article.  8231 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Regional Political Studies ; Comparative Politics

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