Local responses to state-led municipal reform in the Finnish-Swedish border region: conflicting development discourses, culture and institutions
This paper scrutinises the intersections and collisions of different development discourses in the Kemi-Tornio sub-region which lies alongside the Finnish-Swedish border within the political context of municipal reform initiated by the Finnish government in 2011–2015. By drawing on cultural political economy and institutional regional theory, this paper studies how local actors utilize different development discourses produced at (and producing) different scales to justify or contest the municipal amalgamation within the Kemi-Tornio region. In addition, the specific interest is on the how local institutional environment, and border location in particular, are mobilized and strategically used in these processes. The results, based on policy documents and qualitative interviews with key municipal actors, highlight the coexistence of three different, yet overlapping development discourses. While some municipal actors support the state-led development discourse with justification of economic reasoning, there is a strong opposing discourse emphasising the region’s history, identity and municipal self-autonomy. The latter, interestingly, resonates with the EU’s cross-border co-operation discourse; offering an alternative development strategy. Together with the path-dependent regional history, this intersection creates unbalanced power relations between municipalities both with and without a state border. Thus, this paper illustrates how different scalar discourses and institutional structures are actively utilized in municipal reform processes.
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