Culture, Institutions and Power: Institutionalisation of cross-border co-operation as a municipal development strategy in Northern Finland

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, hall L10

Topic of the dissertation

Culture, Institutions and Power: Institutionalisation of cross-border co-operation as a municipal development strategy in Northern Finland

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science Fredriika Jakola

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Science, Geography Research Unit

Subject of study



Associate Professor Garri Raagmaa, University of Tartu, Estonia


Professor Anssi Paasi, University of Oulu

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Cross-border co-operation as a municipal development strategy at the Finnish-Swedish border area

The doctoral thesis examines the change in municipal development strategies in the Finnish-Swedish border area covering the time frame from the post-independence period until today. The border area has been characterised as one of the forerunners in cross-border co-operation in Europe today. Accordingly, the aim of the thesis has been to investigate, how and why cross-border co-operation has been selected and institutionalised as a key municipal development strategy.

Furthermore, the objective has been to clarify how cross-border co-operation has been positioned in relation to wider power struggles over the “best possible” development strategies in different times – both between border municipalities, the Finnish government and the EU and inside the region itself.

The study shows, that in order to understand better the European integration process as well as the dynamics and preconditions of development of border areas, it is crucial to examine cross-border co-operation not only in the framework of EU’s regional policies and EU-funded cross-border co-operation, but also in the context of wider state-led development politics.

The main research material consists of 33 qualitative interviews conducted in seven municipalities (Tornio, Haaparanta, Ylitornio, Kemi, Keminmaa, Tervola, Simo) and of historical document material which covers altogether 143 strategic documents reaching back to the 1930s. Critical discourse analysis and theory oriented content analysis were used as analysis methods.

The results show that the local gradual mobilisation of “border region identity” as a part of regional development and planning, which has started in Finnish Tornio Valley already after Finland’s independence, has had a significant role in the development path of the area.

Moreover, Finland’s and Sweden’s EU membership have had a notable role as well. EU’s cross-border policy discourse has not only offered financial resources which have advanced the materialisation of the co-operation (i.e. infrastructure, co-operation organisations, cross-border municipal services), but also offered legitimacy for the locally and regionally initiated co-operation. Thus, local actors have been able to utilize this legitimacy as a discursive resource when challenging the subordinated municipality-state relation, as happened during the state-led municipal reform process concerning the municipal territorial structure between the years 2011-2015. Accordingly, the study results contradict with the mainstream research literature in which the prevailing understanding is that European cross-border regions are technocratic “top-down” built entities which are primarily led by national political-economic interests.

However, the cross-border co-operation is regionally contested topic. The forms, which cross-border co-operation (for instance between whom and how) has been taken, is a long path-dependent process. The process exemplifies power relations between actors and how they have been able to mobilise different formal and informal institutional structures, whether it was municipal autonomy, EU-funding schemes, prevailing norms and beliefs or trust relations between actors, for instance.

Published in Nordia Geographical Publications series.
Last updated: 1.3.2023