Län (Swedish, IPA: [ˈlɛːn] (listen)) and lääni (Finnish, IPA: [ˈlæːni]) refer to the administrative divisions used in Sweden and previously in Finland. The provinces of Finland were abolished on January 1, 2010.
They are also sometimes used in other countries, especially as a translation of the Russian word oblast. During the period when Finland was a part of the Russian Empire (1809-1917), when Russian was made an official language alongside Swedish, it was synonymous with the word guberniya.
The word literally means fief. The usual English language terms used are separate for the two countries, where Sweden has chosen to translate the term as "county" while Finland prefers "province". With a shared administrative tradition spanning centuries, ending only in 1809, this is a separation by convention, rather than by distinction. The term matches reasonably well the British term "county", but not so well the American term "county" which is usually much smaller in population, more like Swedish "kommun".
The reason why Sweden has chosen to translate the term to "county" is that in Swedish and English, the word "provins"/"province" has come to mean different things. In the Swedish Empire, all lands conquered became provinser (provinces); Swedish law, which granted the common people much more freedom and influence than any other European law at the time, was not extended to them, remaining confined to the landskap (in plural) which made up the Swedish-and-Finnish heartland (roughly corresponding to present-day Sweden and Finland). Examples of such former Swedish provinser are Estonia and Swedish Pomerania. Another reason is that in education, Sweden has preferred British English over American English. "County" is a reasonable British English translation of Län.
One problem is that the historical provinces were before län were introduced defined as either "hertigdöme" (duchy) or "grevskap" (county), so the terminology could be confusing. Later all historical provinces have been given "hertigdöme"/duchy as honorary title.
In Sweden a län is but an arm of the executive power of the national government, and has no autonomy nor legislative power. The län subdivision does not always match the traditional provinces, which are called landskap (singular and plural) in Swedish (including Swedish-speaking Finland) and maakunnat (singular maakunta) in Finnish. The same situation existed in Finland until län/lääni were abolished in 2010.
In every Swedish län (except Gotland) there is a landsting. This is a locally elected assembly, which collects tax and has responsibility for a number of services to the population. The main responsibility is health care and public transport.
The governor has the title landshövding (Swedish) (previously maaherra in Finnish). He or she is appointed by the government, and presides over the länsstyrelse (Swedish ; previously lääninhallitus in Finnish) - translated as "County Administrative Board". The governor's office is administrative by nature, which is also hinted at by the now obsolete title Konungens befallningshavande - "the King's Deputy" - and traditionally used as an honourable post for politicians to conclude their careers. In Finland, the office of governor was abolished in 2010. Unlike the United States, where the governor of a state or territory is the directly elected chief executive, the governor of a Swedish county is appointed to represent the central government, rather than elected by the people.
The counties of Sweden (Swedish: Sveriges län) are the top-level geographic subdivisions of Sweden. Sweden is today divided into 21 counties; however, the numbers of counties has varied over time, due to territorial gains/losses and to divisions and/or mergers of existing counties. This level of administrative unit was first established in the 1634 Instrument of Government on Lord Chancellor Count Axel Oxenstierna's initiative, and superseded the historical provinces of Sweden (Swedish: landskap) in order to introduce a more efficient administration of the realm. At that time, they were what the translation of län into English literally means: fiefdoms. The county borders often follow the provincial borders, but the Crown often chose to make slight relocations to suit its purposes.
In every county there is a county administrative board (länsstyrelse) headed by a governor (landshövding), appointed by the government, as well as a separate county council (landsting). In the county of Gotland however, the landsting has merged with the county's only municipality.
The aims of the county administrative board are to supervise local state administration (that is not otherwise assigned to other government agencies), and to coordinate political goals with the central government. The county council is the elected regional political assembly that oversees the municipal affairs of the county, primarily in regards to public healthcare, public transport, and culture.
Several other government agencies are organised on a county basis, including the main bodies of the police, employment, social insurance, and forestry services.Dalarna County
Dalarna County (Swedish: Dalarnas län) is a county or län in middle Sweden (Svealand). It borders the counties of Uppsala, Jämtland, Gävleborg, Västmanland, Örebro and Värmland. It is also bordered by the Norwegian counties of Hedmark and Trøndelag in the west.
The term Dalarna County is mainly used for administrative purposes, being further subdivided into municipalities (kommuner). Dalarna County virtually encompasses the historical province Dalarna (literally, "the valleys"), that deals with history and culture of the area.Gotland County
Gotland County (Swedish: Gotlands län) is a county or län of Sweden. Gotland is located in the Baltic Sea to the east of Öland, and is the largest of Sweden's islands. Counties are usually sub-divided into municipalities, but Gotland County only consists of one municipality: Gotland Municipality. Gotland County is the only county in Sweden that is not governed by a county council. The municipality handles the tasks that are otherwise handled by the county council, mainly health care and public transport. Like other counties, Gotland has a County Administrative Board that oversees implementation of the Swedish state government. Both the County Administrative Board and the municipality have their seat in the largest city Visby, with over 22,000 inhabitants.Gävleborg County
Gävleborg County (Swedish: Gävleborgs län) is a county or län on the Baltic Sea coast of Sweden. It borders to the counties of Uppsala, Västmanland, Dalarna, Jämtland and Västernorrland. The capital is Gävle.Halland County
Halland County (Swedish: Hallands län) is a county (län) on the western coast of Sweden. It corresponds roughly to the cultural and historical province of Halland. The capital is Halmstad.
It borders the counties of Västra Götaland, Jönköping, Kronoberg, Skåne and the sea of the Kattegat.Jönköping County
Jönköping County (Swedish: Jönköpings län) is a county or län in southern Sweden. It borders the counties of Halland, Västra Götaland, Östergötland, Kalmar and Kronoberg. The total county population was 356,291 inhabitants in September 2017. The capital and largest city is Jönköping. About one quarter of the total county population lives in the combined Jönköping-Huskvarna urban area around the southern point of Lake Vättern.Kalmar County
Kalmar County (Kalmar län) is a county or län in southern Sweden. It borders the counties of Kronoberg, Jönköping, Blekinge and Östergötland. To the east in the Baltic Sea is the island Gotland.
The counties are mainly administrative units. Geographically Kalmar County covers the eastern part in the Småland province, and the entire island of Öland.Kronoberg County
Kronoberg County (IPA: [²kruːnʊˌbærj]; Swedish: Kronobergs län) is a county or län in southern Sweden. It borders the counties of Skåne, Halland, Jönköping, Kalmar, and Blekinge. Its capital is the city of Växjö.Norrbotten County
Norrbotten County (Swedish: Norrbottens län; Finnish: Norrbottenin lääni) is the northernmost county or län of Sweden. It borders Västerbotten County to the southwest, the Gulf of Bothnia to the southeast. It also borders the counties of Nordland and Troms in Norway to the northwest, and Lapland Province in Finland to the northeast.
The name "Norrbotten" is also used for a province of the same name. Norrbotten province covers only the eastern part of Norrbotten County – the inland mostly belongs to the Swedish Lapland province (Lappland).
The northern part of Norrbotten lies within the Arctic Circle.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.Skåne County
Skåne County (Swedish: Skåne län), sometimes referred to as Scania County in English, is the southernmost county or län, of Sweden, basically corresponding to the traditional province Skåne. It borders the counties of Halland, Kronoberg and Blekinge and connects to Capital Region, Denmark by the Oresund Bridge. The seat of residence for the Skåne Governor is the city of Malmö. The headquarters of Skåne Regional Council is the town of Kristianstad.The present county was created in 1997 when Kristianstad County and Malmöhus County were merged, and it covers around 3% of Sweden's total area, but its population of 1,250,000 comprises 13% of Sweden's total population. Prince Oscar of Sweden is Duke of Skåne.Stockholm County
Stockholm County (Swedish: Stockholms län) is a county or län (in Swedish) on the Baltic Sea coast of Sweden. It borders Uppsala County and Södermanland County. It also borders Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. The city of Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. Stockholm County is divided by the historic provinces of Uppland (Roslagen) and Södermanland (Södertörn). More than one fifth of the Swedish population lives in the county. Stockholm County is also one of the statistical riksområden (national areas) according to NUTS:SE, Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics within the EU. With more than two million inhabitants, Stockholm is the most densely populated county of Sweden.Uppsala County
Uppsala County (Swedish: Uppsala län) is a county or län on the eastern coast of Sweden, whose capital is the city of Uppsala. It borders the counties of Dalarna, Stockholm, Södermanland, Västmanland, Gävleborg, and the Baltic Sea.Värmland County
Värmland County (Värmlands län) is a county or län in west central Sweden. It borders the Swedish counties of Dalarna, Örebro and Västra Götaland, as well as the Norwegian counties of Østfold, Akershus and Hedmark to the west. Prince Carl Philip is Duke of Värmland.Västerbotten County
Västerbotten County (Västerbottens län) is a county or län in the north of Sweden. It borders the counties of Västernorrland, Jämtland, and Norrbotten, as well as the Norwegian county of Nordland and the Gulf of Bothnia.Västernorrland County
Västernorrland County (Swedish: Västernorrlands län) is a county (län) in the north of Sweden. It is bordered by the counties of Gävleborg, Jämtland, Västerbotten and the Gulf of Bothnia.
The name Västernorrland means "Western Norrland", as it was in the western part of the original Norrland (northern Sweden and northern Finland).Västra Götaland County
Västra Götaland County (Swedish: Västra Götalands län) is a county or län on the western coast of Sweden.
The county is the second largest (in terms of population) of Sweden's counties and it is subdivided into 49 municipalities (kommuner). Its population of 1,616,000 amounts to 17% of Sweden's population. The formal capital and seat of the governor of Västra Götaland County is Gothenburg. The political capital and seat of the Västra Götaland Regional Council is Vänersborg.
The county was established in 01 January 1998, when Älvsborg County, Gothenburg and Bohus County and Skaraborg County were merged.Örebro County
Örebro County (Swedish: Örebro län) is a county or län in central Sweden. It borders the counties of Västra Götaland, Värmland, Dalarna, Västmanland, Södermanland and Östergötland. It is frequently culturally divided into the hilly northern region of Bergslagen, where mining and metallurgic industry have been important since the Middle Ages, and the southern Mälardalen of lakes and farms.Östergötland County
Östergötland County (Östergötlands län) is a county or län in southeastern Sweden. It has land borders with the counties of Kalmar to the southeast, Jönköping to the southwest, Örebro to the northwest, and Södermanland to the northeast. It also has a sea border with Västra Götaland to the west (across lake Vättern), and borders the Baltic Sea to the east.
Östergötland County has a population of 456,550 (September 30, 2017) and the capital and biggest city is Linköping. Linköping and neighbouring twin city Norrköping together form one of Sweden's metropolitan areas; The Linköping-Norrköping Corridor is therefore sometimes marketed as The Fourth Metropolitan Region of Sweden, the other three being Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. Princess Estelle is Duchess of Östergötland.
Designations for types of administrative territorial entities
1 Used by ten or more countries or having derived terms. Historical derivations in italics.