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A Nordic state of emergency

| By Björn Lindahl, editor in chief

The corona epidemic has closed borders in the Nordic region and the rest of the world. In most countries governments have increased their powers and citizenship has become more important, while personal freedom has been restrained.

This has become a crisis where power is weakened in both ends and concentrated in the middle. International cooperation has not worked well. Countries compete to get their hands on personal protection equipment, the World Health Organisation’s advice and warnings are being ignored and cooperation at UN, EU and Nordic levels suffers. Border regions like Øresund get caught between a rock and a hard place, and even regions inside certain countries are being isolated, like Uusimaa in Finland. 

The smallest unit – the family – is also facing splits. Older members are isolated and cannot receive visits from their children, while the not-too-old cannot help with looking after their grandchildren. Individual freedom has been limited in a way that has not been seen before in peacetime.

This is a state of emergency for trade unions too. Wage negotiations have been postponed in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The state is providing support for companies in crisis and for occupational groups that have been temporarily banned from working.

Yet the Nordic societies are still functioning. The initial stockpiling ended when it turned out warehouses did have time to replenish stock. Those who can work from home. The corona epidemic has shown that highly digitalised societies allow companies to function as before, to a great extent – only now they are run from kitchens and living rooms. Health services in the Nordic countries have so far managed to deal with the increased number of seriously ill patients. Communicable disease, however, has become the greatest work environment risk.

News about the coronavirus has been dominating the media for a long time now. In this edition, the Nordic Labour Journal has chosen to concentrate on the consequences for the Nordic cooperation. We report from a Council of Ministers where the staff can no longer commute across the Øresund bridge – like thousands of others in the region. What are the consequences for plans for the expansion of regional cooperation between Denmark and Sweden? What is happening to Nordjobb? And what about all the Nordic students who are studying abroad?

When the strict anti-infection measures begin to be lifted, the political debate will gather momentum once again. Certain sectors, like tourism, will take years to get back to pre-pandemic levels, if ever. Investments in airport expansions and new hotels look shaky. 

Should the economic crisis be mitigated by handing out money to citizens? Using negative interest rates? Will crisis-hit companies be nationalised?

According to Henning Jørgensen, a Danish Professor of labour market policy, there is nevertheless hope that the crisis will lead to a more social and green labour market. He believes there is a need for a considerably more active labour market policy.

What is needed more than anything to secure the future, is a major public push for future education for those rendered unemployed. He believes the Nordic welfare models will experience a renaissance.

“The crisis has allowed the welfare state and the Nordic model to showcase their strengths, and the Nordic populations have demonstrated through the corona crisis that they support solutions where we all look after each other more,” he says.

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