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How to cite:
Purkarthofer, E.; Mattila, H. (2023): Country Profile of Finland. Hannover. = ARL Country Profiles. https://www.arl-international.com/knowledge/country-profiles/finland/rev/3736. (date of access).


Finland is a Nordic country that borders Russia in the east, Norway in the north and Sweden in the northwest. It has approximately 1250 km of coastline on the Baltic Sea. The Åland Islands, located between Sweden and Finland, belong to Finland but are an autonomous region with special administrative and legal provisions, including their own planning system. Finland has a population of 5.5 million across an area of 338,145 km2. Large parts of the country, especially in the north and east, are sparsely populated, and 85% of the population live in urban areas. About 10% of Finland’s territory is covered by water, and there are approximately 168,000 lakes.

Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 and belonged to the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917. Some Swedish and Russian influences are still visible in the architecture and culture today. In 1917, Finland gained independence and in 1919, the Republic of Finland was officially established. Finland is a welfare state, meaning that relatively high taxes ensure the provision of social and employment services for all citizens.

Finland is a centralised unitary state with three tiers of government: national, regional and municipal. Excluding the Åland Islands, Finland has 18 regions and 293 municipalities, of which half have fewer than 6,000 residents. In 1995, Finland joined the EU at the same time as Sweden and Austria, and since 2002 the euro has been Finland’s currency.

The capital Helsinki is located in the south of the country on the Baltic Sea, only 80 km from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. While Helsinki itself has 658,710 inhabitants, the larger metropolitan region, consisting of the four municipalities Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa, has more than 1.2 million inhabitants (1,207,360). The capital region is Finland’s economic and cultural centre, renowned for its architecture, design culture and innovative businesses. The biggest cities outside the capital area are Tampere (244,608), Oulu (209,909), Turku (195,248), Jyväskylä (144,558), Kuopio (121,509) and Lahti (119,970).

Finnish and Swedish are Finland’s official languages. The Swedish speaking population accounts for approximately 5.6% of the population, with the biggest share of Swedish speakers living along the coast in the west and the south of Finland. The share of foreign language speakers is approximately 8.3%, with Russian, Estonian, Arabic, English and Somali representing the most common languages. Approximately 7,500 people belong to the Sámi minority group, living mostly in Lapland in the north of the country, where Sámi languages have official status.

Finland is a top performer in various international metrics. For example, in 2021 it ranked second in the Global Gender Gap Report¹ and the Press Freedom Index². Since 2018, Finland has been the world’s happiest country according to the World Happiness Report³.

¹ https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf

² https://rsf.org/en/index?year=2021

³ https://worldhappiness.report/news/in-a-lamentable-year-finland-again-is-the-happiest-country-in-the-world/

General information

Name of country Finland
Capital, population of the capital (2020) Helsinki, 656,920 (Tilastokeskus)
Surface area 338,460 km² (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 5,529,543 (World Bank)
Population growth rate (2010-2020) 3.10% (World Bank)
Population density (2020) 18.2 inhabitants/km² (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 24.77% densely populated areas (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0.940 (Human Development Reports)
GDP (2019) EUR 209.,821 million (World Bank)
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 38,000 (World Bank)
GDP growth (2014-2019) 9.21% (World Bank)
Unemployment rate (2019) 6.69% (World Bank)
Land use (2018) 1.41% built-up land
8.3% agricultural land
71.82% forests and shrubland
2.72% nature
15.76% inland waters
(European Environment Agency)
Sectoral structure (2017) 69.1% services and administration
28.2% industry and construction
2.7% agriculture and forestry
(Central Intelligence Agency)

To ensure comparability between all Country Profiles, the tables were prepared by the ARL.

Administrative structure and system of governance

Finland is a unitary, non-federal state organised on a decentralised basis. Finland is also a parliamentary republic. The Finnish Constitution (731/1999) lays out the rules for the system of government and the fundamental rights of citizens.

The head of state is the president of the republic. The president is elected by a direct vote for a term of six years. The governmental powers are exercised by the president and the government, which is led by the prime minister. The members of the government shall have the confidence of parliament.

The parliament (Eduskunta) exercises the legislative powers and decides on state finances. The parliament is unicameral, consisting of 200 representatives elected for a four-year term. All Finnish citizens above the age of 18 have a right to vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Finland has three administrative levels: national, regional and local. However, the national level, i.e. the central state, is represented at all three levels. The national-level state administration or central government includes the ministries and public bodies subordinate to them.

The regional state administration authorities include six Regional State Administrative Agencies (Aluehallintovirasto) and 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (Elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus/ELY-keskus). The regional state administration agencies are responsible for enforcement tasks of the state relating to due process and constitutional rights, safety and environmental standards. Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment promote regional development by managing the enforcement and development tasks of state administration in their own geographical areas. Their task is also to promote the development of a good living environment and the competitiveness of industries.

The state has also district-level administration authorities. They consist of 11 Police Departments (Poliisilaitos) and 15 Employment and Economic Development Offices (TE-toimistot). 

Figure 1: Administrative structure_Finland.gif

Figure 1: Administrative Structure of Finland

The local level of administration is characterised by the local self-government principle enshrined in the Finnish Constitution (731/1999). Local authorities are given administrative competences under law, and they also have regulatory powers such as planning powers. They are also entitled to levy taxes.

As of 2022, there are 293 municipalities in Finland, excluding the 16 municipalities in Åland. The statutory duties of the municipalities include education; early childhood education and care; cultural, youth, library and sports services; urban planning and land-use planning; water and waste management and environmental services.

The municipal councils are the highest decision-making bodies in the municipalities. Their members are elected by municipal residents for a four-year term in local elections. The municipal council elects the members of the municipal executive board, which drafts decisions for the council and executes them.

Finland is divided into 18 regions (excluding Åland), which are the cooperative organs of the municipalities. They are led by regional councils consisting of representatives of the municipalities of the region. The regional councils’ main tasks are related to regional development and regional land-use planning.

Thus, both the state and the municipalities have representations at the regional level, which are not to be confused with each other: Regional Councils consist of municipal representatives, while Regional State Administrative Agencies and ELY centres represent the central state.

Additionally, in 2022, new Wellbeing Services Counties were established as part of a healthcare and social services reform. Until 2022, municipalities had the statutory duty of organising healthcare and social welfare services. The wellbeing services counties mainly correspond to the regional borders, and their County Councils are directly elected by the citizens of the region.

Figure 2: Planning system_Finland.gif

Figure 2: Planning System of Finland

An exception in the Finnish administrative system is the autonomous region of Åland (Ahvenanmaa), situated in an archipelago between Finland and Sweden. Åland has its own parliament (Ålands Lagting), consisting of 30 representatives. Åland also has a quota of one elected representative in the Finnish Parliament. The State Department of Åland is the regional state administrative authority in the region of Åland.

As enacted in the Finnish constitution (731/1999), the courts exercise judicial power independently. The judicial system in Finland is divided into two categories: firstly, general courts deal with civil and criminal matters, and secondly, administrative courts deal with disputes between a public authority and private individuals. The system of courts is hierarchical. Amongst the general courts, the Supreme Court (Korkein oikeus) is at the top of hierarchy, below which are the five Courts of Appeal (Hovioikeus) and 20 District Courts (Käräjäoikeus). Amongst the administrative courts, the Supreme Administrative Court (Korkein hallinto-oikeus) is at the top of hierarchy, with the six regional Administrative Courts (Hallinto-oikeus) below. Åland has its own system of courts, where the administrative court is integrated into the District Court of Åland.

Figure 3: System of powers of Finland

Figure 3: System of powers of Finland

Spatial planning system


Before the Second World War, planning was understood in Finland mainly in terms of detailed planning (Jääskeläinen & Syrjänen 2000). The steering of urban development was based on the Local Detailed Planning Act (145/1931) that came into power in 1932. Old cities established by the Swedish Crown were built on the land that the Crown had donated to the cities. Therefore, these cities could control urban development even without using planning instruments. This was not the case for the newer cities. Furthermore, the old cities expanded onto privately owned land during the 20th century, which meant that new land-use planning instruments were needed. Efforts were made throughout the first half of the 20th century to renew the legislation to provide tools for general planning and to enable municipalities to control the increasing suburbanisation which was taking place on privately owned land.

The Building Act (370/1958) of 1958 expanded the scope of regulation beyond detailed planning, establishing a firmer position for general planning and introducing regional plans into the planning system (Talvitie 2018, 11). The Act also strengthened the position of the municipalities in planning considerably (Jääskeläinen & Syrjänen 2000, 26). During the era of the Building Act, Finland urbanised rapidly: in 1950, 70% of Finns lived in rural areas, whereas in 1990, 60% of the population lived in cities. In practice, urbanisation mainly took the form of suburbanisation, and many of the suburbs, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, developed through exceptional processes, since the planning system and organisations could not respond efficiently to the pressures of urbanisation (Jääskeläinen & Syrjänen 2000, 27). The emergence of dispersed settlements outside planned areas was also common throughout the last decades of the 20th century (Littow 2006).

The Parliament of Finland initiated the renewal of planning law in 1969 to make planning more responsive to urbanisation and promote sustainable forms of urbanisation. However, the current Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) did not come to force until 2000. In the Land Use and Building Act, there is a strong emphasis not only on sustainability-related goals but also on public participation in planning. The main reason for this is that urban development – at least ideally – is no longer primarily greenfield development, but defragmentation-oriented planning based on urban infills (Jääskeläinen & Syrjänen 2000). When planning takes place in populated areas, interaction with existing stakeholders is needed to prevent planning conflicts.

Legal basis

The legislation concerning planning and building in Finland builds on the ideal of a relatively wide discretionary leeway and a flexible style of regulation based on ‘open’ norms (Jääskeläinen & Syrjänen 2000, 39). The Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) provides the general-level norms and provisions concerning land use and building, and according to Section 2 of the Act, ‘more detailed provisions and regulations concerning the planning, building development and use of land areas may be issued by decree, ministerial decision or in a local authority’s building ordinance […]’. In addition, numerous other sectoral acts must be taken into account in land-use planning.

Due to their constitutionally guaranteed right to self-governance, municipalities have extensive planning rights, sometimes called a ‘planning monopoly’, which covers both drafting and ratifying the plans. In addition, regional councils have a right to draft and ratify regional plans.

Planning authorities

Following the Nordic administrative tradition, Finland is a unitary state with strong local government (Sjöblom 2010). There are three tiers of statutory planning in Finland: national, regional and municipal.

At the national level, the Ministry of the Environment (Ympäristöministeriö) is the most important planning authority. The ministry is responsible for preparing planning legislation, specifically the Land Use and Building Act (132/1999), and for defining general planning goals and objectives in the ‘National Land Use Objectives’ (Valtakunnalliset alueidenkäyttötavoitteet, VAT). National land-use objectives must be taken into account in regional and other land-use planning in a way that promotes their implementation (Land Use and Building Act 132/199, Section 249). In addition to the Ministry of the Environment, other ministries also contribute to planning at a national level with regard to their specific sectoral focus, for example the Ministry of Transport and Communications (Liikenne- ja viestintäministeriö), the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Maa- ja metsätalousministeriö), or the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö).

At the regional level, the Regional Councils have the competence to draft and approve Regional Land Use Plans. Regional Land Use Plans are legally binding, but they leave plenty of scope for the municipalities to address local land use and development issues. Regional Councils are also responsible for creating Regional Development Programmes and Regional Development Strategies, and they play an important role in the implementation of EU Cohesion Policy. Regional Councils are joint municipal authorities, i.e. their political decision-making organs are not directly elected but consist of representatives of the municipalities in the region. In 2022, additional Wellbeing Services Counties were established, which are responsible for health, social and rescue services.

At the local level, municipalities have a ‘land-use monopoly’, meaning that they are solely responsible for drawing up plans and ensuring sustainability and favourable living conditions within their jurisdiction. Regional or national actors do not have the means to control or disapprove local plan, yet local plans must not contradict Regional Land Use Plans. Public authorities, organizations as well as private citizens can appeal to plans with the claim that there is a contradiction to higher level plans. The court then decides whether the plan needs to be amended or repealed. Municipalities prepare Local Master Plans and Local Detailed Plans, both of which are legally binding. The plans are approved by the Municipal Council, consisting of elected decisionmakers.

Municipalities are powerful actors in land-use planning also because they oftentimes own land. Municipalities are also able to purchase land for future development needs on reasonable terms and conditions because there are several statutory land-policy instruments available to them.

Planning instruments

National Land Use Objectives (Valtakunnalliset alueidenkäyttötavoitteet, VAT)

The National Land Use Objectives aim to ensure that nationally significant issues, as well as international perspectives, are taken into account in regional and local planning. They are also meant to transpose the contents of international agreements into the Finnish planning system. The objectives are contained in a text document without a map or spatial vision. The National Land Use Objectives are renewed at irregular intervals.

Currently, the National Land Use Objectives, which were enacted in 2018, focus on five themes:

  • Functioning communities and sustainable transport
  • Efficient transport systems
  • Healthy and safe environment
  • Viable natural and cultural environment and natural resources
  • Renewable energy supply

Regional Land Use Plan (Maakuntakaava)

Regional Land Use Plans are drawn up and approved by the Regional Councils. Their aim is to set out principles of land use and designate areas for regional development. The level of detail and specificity of the Regional Land Use Plan should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve national and regional goals, or to harmonise the use of land between neighbouring municipalities. They are thus not strict zoning plans but strategic plans that leave room for local interpretation and implementation. The Regional Land Use Plan is typically drawn up at scales between 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 and is accompanied by a text document. Both the map and text are legally binding for local planning but they do not directly steer building.

Regional Land Use Plans usually have a time horizon of 10 to 20 years and are renewed after approximately 10 years, although some regions have adopted shorter intervals for renewing them in order incrementally tackle regional issues in planning (Purkarthofer, Humer and Mattila, 2021). The Regional Land Use Plan is intended to complement the Regional Development Strategy (time horizon 20 to 30 years) and the Regional Development Programme (time horizon three to five years), both of which are also enacted by the Regional Council. 

Regional Land Use Plans do not necessarily cover the whole regional territory but are sometimes drawn up for sub-areas or for specific themes. Examples of the issues addressed in Regional Land Use Plans are infrastructure development (main roads, rail, energy), land use changes that affect the regional structure (retail, residential neighbourhoods, industry), developments serving wider areas (e.g. recreational facilities or water supply systems), the protection of regionally significant natural or cultural areas or issues involving competition between municipalities.

Local Master Plan (Yleiskaava)

The Local Master Plan is enacted by the municipality and provides general guidance on the spatial structure and land use. It can cover the whole municipal territory or a sub-area thereof. Two municipalities may also opt to draw up a Joint Municipal Master Plan, but this option is not frequently used in planning practice. Local Master Plans are usually drawn up at scales between 1:2000 and 1:50,000 and are accompanied by a text document. Both map and text are legally binding for local detailed planning. In areas where no detailed plan exists, the Local Master Plan might also directly steer building.

The Local Master Plan has an integrative function. It integrates national and regional objectives with the strategic goals of the municipality, it coordinates various local interests and integrates different goals related to society and the environment. The Local Master Plan needs to take into account different types of legislation: the Land Use and Building Act as primary planning law, as well as legislation related to the protection of the environment, built heritage, roads, water, forests, soil, mining, waste management and historical relics.

There are different types of Local Master Plan (Ympäristöministeriö 2013, 21). Strategic master plans typically cover the whole municipality and can be understood as a vision for the municipality. Master plans focusing on land use issues often cover only a particular area of the municipality. Phased master plans can also address a specific topical issue, such as commercial or energy services or recreational areas. Finally, master plans can also be used to guide building in some cases. The Local Master Plan is thus a relatively flexible planning instrument and municipalities can decide how they use it and for which purposes. In many municipalities Local Master Plans are renewed approximately every 10 years, but a growing number of municipalities have started to renew them more frequently in order to address planning issues continually and to better align the development of the plan with the municipal council’s term in office (Mäntysalo et al., 2019).

A broad range of issues should be taken into account when a Local Master Plan is drafted:    

  • the functionality, economy and ecological sustainability of the municipal structure;
  • the utilisation of the existing municipal structure;
  • housing needs and availability of services;
  • opportunities to organise traffic and transport, especially public transport and non-motorised traffic, energy, water supply and drainage, and energy and waste management in an appropriate manner which is sustainable in terms of the environment, natural resources and economy;
  • opportunities for a safe, healthy living environment which takes different population groups into equal consideration;
  • business conditions within the municipality;
  • reduction of environmental hazards;
  • protection of the built environment, landscape and areas of natural value; and
  • a sufficient number of areas suitable for recreation.

Local Detailed Plan (Asemakaava)

Local Detailed Plans have historically been the most important instrument for steering urban development and land use. The Local Detailed Plan is drawn up to organise land use, building and development in detail in a specific area of the municipality. Local Detailed Plans indicate and prescribe the main functions of areas, building rights or building efficiency ratios, the number of floors or building heights, other functional issues and issues related to building quality and urban design. 

The Local Detailed Plan is drafted by the municipality and approved by the municipal council. When the Local Detailed Plan is drafted, the Regional Land Use Plan and Local Master Plan must be taken into account. The Local Detailed Plan is legally binding and is the basis for issuing building permits. It is not renewed after a certain length of time, but must be kept up to date. Landowners can suggest that a plan is drafted or amended, but the decision to commence planning is up to the municipality. If drafting a Local Detailed Plan serves mainly the interest of a private actor, the municipality is entitled to charge them the costs of the planning process.

The Local Detailed Plan needs to create the preconditions for healthy, safe and pleasant living environments, local services and the organisation of traffic and transport. Elements of the built and natural environment which are of value shall be preserved and the plan must ensure that the area provides sufficient parks or other recreational areas. The Local Detailed Plan must not substantially weaken the quality of anyone’s living environment or impose unreasonable restrictions or harm on landowners. 



Public participation must be ensured for all legally binding planning instruments (Regional Land Use Plan, Local Master Plan, Detailed Plan). Everybody who lives or works in the area, or is impacted by the plan for another reason, must be given the opportunity to participate in the preparation of the plan, review it and comment on it. This refers to individuals as well as public authorities and private companies insofar as they can be considered interested parties. When the preparation of a plan starts, a scheme outlining participation and communication procedures must be drawn up. The procedures for participation are thus designed on a case-by-case basis and their scope is decided together with the stakeholders.


The participation stages could take this format:

  1. Commencement: The public is informed about the initiation of the planning process.
  2. Preparation: The public can comment on the draft plan in public hearings and submit written opinions.
  3. Proposal: The plan proposal is made available to the public for review. Opinions are collected and objections can be made.
  4. Approval: After the plan is ratified, the public may seek an appeal. In the first instance, appeals go to the regional administrative court, and in the second instance to the supreme administrative court. 

While the Finnish planning system is hierarchical, participation opportunities are most actively used in local detailed planning. Consequently, many strategic decisions have already been taken when detailed plans are being drafted, and thus comments in the participation process are not always accommodated. Moreover, participation is only mandatory for statutory planning instruments, leaving no opportunities to systematically involve the public in other planning processes, for instance the non-statutory city-regional planning and MAL agreements (Maankäytön, asumisen ja liikenteen sopimukset; Finnish for “land use, housing and transport contracts”, see below) (Bäcklund et al., 2018).

Interdependencies between planning levels

In principle, Finland’s planning system is hierarchical, meaning that the regional land-use plan is the highest plan, with which municipal land-use plans must not conflict. Detailed plans, in turn, must comply with the municipal land-use plans. In practice, however, a fairly asymmetrical distribution of powers can be observed in which local planning is often more powerful than regional planning (Mattila, 2018).

Soft Planning

In Finland, non-statutory planning takes place especially in city regions, for which statutory planning instruments do not provide a suitable spatial framework. Many urban regions have developed structural schemes (Rakennemalli) as informal strategic planning instruments (Mäntysalo, Kangasoja and Kanninen, 2015). These vary in style and content from city region to city region, but they all aim to find a common strategy to tackle pressing issues such as transport planning, nature conservation and rapid urbanisation. These structural schemes are created by the municipalities in the region, often aided by consulting companies.

Recently, city-regional planning has also been supported by MAL agreements (Maankäytön, asumisen ja liikenteen sopimukset; Finnish for “land use, housing and transport contracts”) which aim to support city-regional coordination in land use, housing and transport. The MAL agreements are negotiated between the state, with the Ministry of the Environment in the leading role, and the municipalities in a city region. Through MAL agreements, the state incentivises city-regional cooperation – facilitating house-building in particular – by offering financial support for the construction of costly public transport infrastructure in return. In the period 2016–2019, MAL agreements were made between the state and the four biggest city regions (Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Oulu). In the period 2020–2031, these agreements were renewed and new agreements with the city regions of Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Lahti were added. (Vatilo, Mattila and Jalasto 2022)

While there are no national-level statutory plans in Finland, there are soft forms of planning at the national level. The Ministry of Transport and Communications prepares a national transport plan for 12 years (Liikenne 12), and the Ministry of the Environment prepares a development vision (Alueidenkäytön kehityskuva), which provides information, supports future forecasting and functions as a basis for determining the measures that need to be taken to achieve sustainable urban and regional development in Finland.

Influence of EU legislation and policies

As in all EU member states, EU policies have considerable influence on spatial planning in Finland, although these influences might not always be immediately visible. As Finland is a unitary state, the ministries are the primary authorities which interact with the European Commission and participate in activities at the EU level. The Ministry of the Environment deals with EU environmental legislation and issues related to European spatial planning and urban policy. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is responsible for implementing EU Cohesion Policy in Finland.

According to qualitative research (Purkarthofer, 2018), EU policies related to planning are perceived as positive and yet very distant by many Finnish planning actors. At the local level, EU environmental legislation, and especially the Natura 2000 Directives, has the strongest immediate influence on land-use planning.

Finland participates in several programmes under the umbrella of European Territorial Cooperation: the cross-border programmes Nord, Botnia-Atlantica and Central Baltic, the transnational Baltic Sea and Northern Periphery and Arctic programmes and the EU-wide INTERREG EUROPE, INTERACT III, URBACT and ESPON 2020 programmes. Finland is also part of the macro-regional EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

Main spatial planning challenges and debates

In recent years, Finland’s main policy debates in spatial planning have related to the global climate crisis. Sustainability, and more specifically sustainable urban development and mobility, are among the key objectives in all planning strategies. Due to the low population density, planning for a car-based lifestyle constitutes the reality in many parts of the country.

Since the 1960s, Finland has seen a continuous trend of urbanisation, leading to population growth in the biggest cities due to national and international migration. Rural areas and smaller cities in turn face population losses. In the bigger cities, affordable housing as well as the reduction of urban sprawl represent two of the most pressing challenges. As a consequence, the preservation of green and recreational areas in cities becomes increasingly challenging when municipalities are under pressure to dedicate more space to residential buildings and services. This problem is reinforced by the Finnish tax policy which gives municipalities the authority to collect taxes and thus entices municipalities to attract as many inhabitants as possible. Cooperation between municipalities is thus often a major challenge, in planning as well as in other policy areas. The MAL agreements (see above) are intended as an instrument to incentivise coordination of land-use planning, housing policy and transport policy in the biggest city regions.

In Finnish culture it has been typical to think that everyone should have a right to build a residential building on the land they own (Uudenmaan liitto, 2012, 8). This is often referred to as a ‘basic building right’. This, however, is not a constitutional right; the constitution only protects the rights to property, and requires that people are treated equally, for instance when public authorities make decisions concerning land use and building (Uudenmaan liitto 2012). The Land Use and Building Act (132/1999) gives municipalities the right to regulate land use and building. Yet, in many municipalities, especially in the fringes of growing urban regions, landowners are given permits to build single family houses outside the planned areas (Heinilä 2017).

In the rural and peripheral areas of the country, depopulation poses a serious challenge to the provision of services. This is amplified by the fact that the young and highly educated population tends to move to the bigger cities, while the elderly stay put. To date, few Finnish municipalities have found constructive policies to address shrinking and ageing, or have even started to accept this as the reality.

For several years, administrative reforms which directly or indirectly affect spatial planning have been discussed. The creation of more efficient governance structures remains an ongoing challenge. Municipal mergers were proposed, e.g. in the Law on Local Governance and Service Provision Structures (169/2007) (‘PARAS Act’). However, few mergers took place because municipalities in big city regions could avoid them by creating strategic structural schemes where they outlined the actions that they would take together to ensure sustainable spatial development (see above). The reform of the social and healthcare sector, including its spatial organisation, aimed to strengthen the regional level through directly elected regional councils. However, the reform concluded in 2022 and created new counties which are independent from the existing regions that are responsible for regional planning and development. Moreover, the renewal of the Land Use and Building Act as primary planning law has been ongoing for several years. In 2022, the reform was put on hold for the time being due to political disagreements.

Important stakeholders

Institution/ stakeholder/ authorities Special interest/competences/administrative area

Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (Elinkeino-, liikenne- ja ympäristökeskus)

Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment facilitate land-use planning in municipalities and regions and ensure that the national and regional interests are taken into account when plans are prepared.

Ministry of the Environment (Ympäristöministeriö)


The Ministry of the Environment prepares National Land Use Objectives (Valtakunnalliset alueidenkäyttötavoitteet), prepares legislation concerning land use and building, prepares a development vision for the whole country (Alueidenkäytön kehityskuva), and gives legally non-binding instructions and guidance on the interpretation and applications of the legal norms related to land-use planning.

Ministry of Transport and Communications (Liikenne- ja viestintäministeriö)

The Ministry of Transport and Communications is responsible for the provision of safe and secure transport and communications connections and services, including digital infrastructure and services. The Ministry of Transport and Communications also prepares a national transport plan for 12 years (Liikenne 12).

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö)

The mission of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is to create conditions for economically, socially and ecologically sustainable growth. Its responsibilities include industrial policy, innovation and technology policy, employment and unemployment matters, energy policy, regional development and the implementation of EU regional policy together with the regional councils. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is also administratively responsible for the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

Fact sheets


  • Attachment 1: Administrative divisions in Finland

List of references

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö)

Bäcklund, P. et al. (2018) ‘Bypassing Publicity for Getting Things Done: Between Informal and Formal Planning Practices in Finland’, Planning Practice & Research, 33(3), pp. 309–325. doi:10.1080/02697459.2017.1378978.

Central Intelligence Agency (2017): GDP – composition, by sector of origin. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/gdp-composition-by-sector-of-origin/ (Accessed 18 January 2023).

European Commission (2015): Global Human Settlement Layer. Available at: https://ghsl.jrc.ec.europa.eu/CFS.php (Accessed 18 January 2023).

European Environment Agency (2018): Land cover country fact sheets 2000-2018. Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/landuse/land-cover-country-fact-sheets (Accessed 18 January 2023).

Government of Finland (2017) Government decision on Finland’s national

land use guidelines. Available at: https://www.ymparisto.fi/download/VAT_14122017_englishpdf/%7BC8DAA05E-FBC8-490E-A805-37BCE01A1E43%7D/138177 (accessed July 31, 2022).

Heinilä, A. (2017) Oikeus rakentaa. Tutkimus suunnittelutarveratkaisu- ja poikkeamispäätöksenteosta maankäyttö- ja rakennuslain järjestelmässä. Suomalaisen lakimiesyhdistyksen julkaisuja A 337. Helsinki: Suomalainen lakimiesyhdistys.

Human Development Reports (2021): Human Development Index. Available at: https://hdr.undp.org/data-center/human-development-index#/indicies/HDI (Accessed 18 January 2023). 

Jääskeläinen, L. and Syrjänen, O. (2000) Maankäyttö- ja rakennuslaki selityksineen. Käytännön käsikirja. Helsinki: Rakennustieto Oy.

Littow, P. (2006) Kaavoitus ennen maankäyttö- ja rakennuslakia. Maankäyttö 4/2006.

Mäntysalo, R. et al. (2019) ‘The Strategic Incrementalism of Lahti Master Planning: Three Lessons’, Planning Theory & Practice, 20(4), pp. 555–572. doi:10.1080/14649357.2019.1652336.

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