Regional councils take care of international affairs and relations related to their work. They participate in the development and implementation of EU regional policy. The councils plan the programmes required for structural funding in their own region and take the funding decisions needed to implement the programmes.
To draw attention to the special circumstances of Finland, the councils emphasise the Northern Dimension in outlining the new EU regional policy. This means taking account of handicaps such as low population density, long distances and cold climate in the planning of the EU's regional development programmes. The Northern Dimension policy also includes cross-border cooperation with the Barents and Baltic Sea regions, and Russia.
When the Committee of the Regions was established in early 1994, Finnish local and regional government decision-makers were made official representatives to the European Union instead of government authorities (State Provincial Office). Regional councils represent Finland in the EU Committee of the Regions. Many regional councils also have their own permanent representation in Brussels in addition to the representation of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.
The representatives of regional councils are also members of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRAE).
Many regional councils are members of several European regional organisations, the most important of which are: Assembly of European Regions (AER), Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR) — one of the oldest associations for specific regions — and the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), which promotes cross-border cooperation.
International connections are vitally important to a small country like Finland. Traditionally, Finland has engaged in cooperation with other Nordic countries, but will have increasingly more international connections as a result of EU enlargement and intensified cross-border cooperation with Russia and the Baltic countries and the strengthening of north-south cooperation.