Provinces of Finland

Between 1634 and 2009, Finland was administered as several provinces (Finnish: Suomen läänit, Swedish: Finlands län). Finland had always been a unitary state: the provincial authorities were part of the central government's executive branch and the provinces had little autonomy. There were never any elected provincial parliaments in continental Finland. The system was initially created in 1634. Its makeup was changed drastically in 1997, when the number of the provinces was reduced from twelve to six. This effectively made them purely administrative units, as linguistic and cultural boundaries no longer followed the borders of the provinces. The provinces were eventually abolished at the end of 2009. Consequently, different ministries may subdivide their areal organization differently. Besides the former provinces, the municipalities of Finland form the fundamental subdivisions of the country. In current use are the regions of Finland, a smaller subdivision where some pre-1997 läänis are split into multiple regions. Åland islands retain their special autonomous status and their own regional parliament.

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Each province was led by a governor (Finnish maaherra, Swedish landshövding) appointed by the president on the recommendation of the cabinet. The governor was the head of the State Provincial Office (Finnish lääninhallitus, Swedish länsstyrelse), which acted as the joint regional authority for seven ministries in the following domains:

  • social services and health care
  • education and culture
  • police administration
  • rescue services
  • traffic administration
  • competition and consumer affairs
  • judicial administration

The official administrative subentities under the Provincial Office authorities were the Registry Offices (Finnish maistraatti, Swedish magistrat). Formerly there was also a division to state local districts (Finnish kihlakunta, Swedish härad), which were districts for police, prosecution, and bailiff services, but there was reorganization such that 24 police districts were founded. These usually encompass multiple municipalities.

Provinces governed only state offices, such as the police. Most services, such as healthcare and maintenance of local streets, were and remain today the responsibility of municipalities of Finland. Many municipalities are too small for a hospital and some other services, so they cooperate in municipality groups, e.g. health care districts, using borders that vary depending on the type of service. Often Swedish-language municipalities cooperate even if they do not share a border.

List of all provinces that ever existed

In 1634, administratives provinces were formed in Sweden, and therefore in Finland, which was a part of Sweden until 1809. Five of the provinces covered what is now Finland; some of these also covered parts of what are now Russia. The exact division of the country into provinces has fluctuated over time.

The boundaries of the old provinces partly survive in telephone area codes and electoral districts. The exception is Helsinki: there is a telephone numbering area that comprises Greater Helsinki (code 09), while only the city of Helsinki proper comprises the electoral district of Helsinki, the rest of Greater Helsinki belonging to the Uusimaa electoral district.

Map number English name Finnish name Swedish name Residence city Dates of existence Notes
1Province of Turku and PoriTurun ja Porin lääniÅbo och Björneborgs länTurku16341997• one of the original provinces formed in 1634, though parts were split off since then
• merged into the Province of Western Finland
14Province of Nyland and TavastehusUudenmaan ja Hämeen lääniNylands och Tavastehus länHelsinki / Hämeenlinna16341831• one of the original provinces formed in 1634
18Province of OstrobothniaPohjanmaan lääniÖsterbottens länOulu / Vaasa16341775• one of the original provinces formed in 1634
20Province of Viborg and NyslottViipurin ja Savonlinnan lääniViborgs och Nyslotts länVyborg16341721• one of the original provinces formed in 1634
21Province of KexholmKäkisalmen lääniKexholms länKexholm16341721• one of the original provinces formed in 1634
19Province of Kymmenegård and NyslottSavonlinnan ja Kymenkartanon lääniKymmenegårds och Nyslotts länLappeenranta17211747• former Province of Viborg and Nyslott
17Province of Savolax and KymmenegårdKymenkartanon ja Savon lääniSavolax och Kymmenegårds länLoviisa17471775• former Province of Kymmenegård and Nyslott
4Province of VaasaVaasan lääniVasa länVaasa17751997• split off from the Province of Ostrobothnia
• merged into the Province of Western Finland
10Province of OuluOulun lääniUleåborgs länOulu17752009• split off from the Province of Ostrobothnia
15Province of KymmenegårdKymenkartanon lääniKymmenegårds länHeinola17751831• split off from the Province of Savolax and Kymmenegård
16Province of Savolax and KareliaSavon ja Karjalan lääniSavolax och Karelens länKuopio17751831• split off from the Province of Savolax and Kymmenegård
13Province of ViipuriViipurin lääniViborgs länVyborg18121947• Russian Vyborg Governorate 1744-1812; transferred as Province of Viipuri to autonomic Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812
• most of its area was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II, and the remainder became the Province of Kymi
2Province of UusimaaUudenmaan lääniNylands länHelsinki18311997• produced by splitting the Province of Nyland and Tavastehus
• merged into the Province of Southern Finland
3Province of HämeHämeen lääniTavastehus länHämeenlinna18311997• produced by splitting the Province of Nyland and Tavastehus
• merged into the Provinces of Southern Finland and Western Finland
6Province of MikkeliMikkelin lääniSt. Michels länMikkeli18311997• former Province of Kymmenegård
• merged into the Provinces of Eastern Finland and Southern Finland
8Province of KuopioKuopion lääniKuopio länKuopio18311997• former Province of Savolax and Karelia
• merged into the Province of Eastern Finland
12Province of ÅlandAhvenanmaan lääniÅlands länMariehamn19182009• had a special status: even though the province was discontinued at the end of 2009 along with the others, there was (and still is) a coextensive "maakunta" (a translation of "province" with a slightly different meaning from the usual) that is semi-autonomous and demilitarized by international treaties
25Province of PetsamoPetsamon lääniPetsamo länPechenga19211921• gained from Soviet Russia
• merged into the Province of Oulu
• the entire area of the former Province of Pechenga was lost to the Soviet Union in World War II
11Province of LaplandLapin lääniLapplands länRovaniemi19382009• split off from the Province of Oulu
5Province of KymiKymen lääniKymmene länKouvola19451997• formed from the part of the Province of Viipuri that remained on the Finnish side of the border with Russia
• merged into the Province of Southern Finland
7Province of Central FinlandKeski-Suomen lääniMellersta Finlands länJyväskylä19601997• split off from the Provinces of Vaasa, Häme, Mikkeli and Kuopio
• merged into the Province of Western Finland
9Province of North KareliaPohjois-Karjalan lääniNorra Karelens länJoensuu19601997• split off from the Province of Kuopio
• merged into the Province of Eastern Finland
22Province of Southern FinlandEtelä-Suomen lääniSödra Finlands länHämeenlinna19972009• merged from Provinces of Uusimaa, Kymi, Häme (part) and Mikkeli (part)
23Province of Western FinlandLänsi-Suomen lääniVästra Finlands länTurku19972009• merged from Provinces of Turku and Pori, Vaasa, Central Finland and Häme (part)
24Province of Eastern FinlandItä-Suomen lääniÖstra Finlands länMikkeli19972009• merged from Provinces of Kuopio, North Karelia and Mikkeli (part)

Geographical evolution of provincial administration

Provinces of Finland at abolition

No.Coats of armsProvincesFinnish and
Swedish names
Residence cityLargest cityPopulation (2003)Area (km²)Merged Provinces (1997)Map
1.Southern FinlandEtelä-Suomen lääni
Södra Finlands län
Helsinki2,116,91434,378Uusimaa, Kymi, Häme
2.Western FinlandLänsi-Suomen lääni
Västra Finlands län
Tampere1,848,26974,185Vaasa, Turku-Pori, Central Finland, Häme
3.Eastern FinlandItä-Suomen lääni
Östra Finlands län
S:t Michel
Kuopio582,78148,726Kuopio, North Karelia, Mikkeli
4.OuluOulun lääni
Uleåborgs län
Oulu458,50457,000No changes
5.LaplandLapin lääni
Lapplands län
Rovaniemi186,91798,946No changes
6.Åland[a]Ahvenanmaan lääni
Ålands län[b]
Mariehamn26,0006,784No changes

a. ^ Some duties, which in Mainland Finland are handled by the provinces, are on the Åland Islands transferred to the autonomous Government of Åland.
b. ^ The Åland Islands are unilingually Swedish.

After abolition

The provinces were abolished altogether effective 1 January 2010. Since then, the regional administration of the Finnish state has two parallel top-level organs in the hierarchy: the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment on the one hand, and the Regional State Administrative Agencies on the other.

Six Regional State Administrative Agencies (aluehallintovirasto, regionförvaltningsverk, abbr. avi) in addition to the Government of Åland are primarily responsible for law enforcement. Among these, South-Western Finland and Western and Central Finland cover the former province of Western Finland, and the former province of Oulu was revamped as Northern Finland; other old provincial boundaries remain much the same in the new disposition.

In parallel, there are 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (Finnish: elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus, usually abbreviated ely-keskus), which are responsible for other state administration: employment, road and transport infrastructure, and environmental monitoring. They are each responsible for one or more of regions of Finland, and include offices of the Ministries of Employment and the Economy, Transport and Communications and Environment.

See also

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