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Social sustainability under pressure from many sides

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

Street battles in Sweden between people from disadvantaged areas and the police have less to do with a Danish politician wanting to burn the Koran and more to do with a lack of social glue between different groups.

The Nordic region’s vision of becoming the world's most socially sustainable region by 2030 has got a serious dent. The riots in Sweden have been covered by the CNN and the BBC, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine being the dominating story these days.

But what can be done to make the young people in these areas see that they too have opportunities? The organisation NU – Nolla Utanförskapet (End Exclusion) works to engage businesses. NU offers tutoring, outreach activities and training, all aimed at getting more young people into the labour market.

Compared with refugees from elsewhere, the relatively few Ukrainians who have arrived in the Nordics are met with enormous goodwill. The war has consequences, even here. Especially in the Finnish city of Lappeenranta near the Russian border. Before the pandemic, 2.8 million Russians visited every year. Our reporting team Bengt Östling and Cata Portin travelled there to test the mood in a city with 3,330 Russian permanent residents.

"It is important to remember that even if you speak Russian – or Ukrainian – you are not to blame for what is now happening in Ukraine," says Mayor Kimmo Jarva. 

In all of the Nordic countries, there are those who argue for a fast track system for Ukrainian refugees to allow them to enter the labour market as quickly as possible. But for that to happen, clear rules are needed. If not, what happened in Norway might happen again. The country was inspired by the Swedish fast track programme that was launched in 2015, but the reform went against what Norway’s welfare agency NAV saw as a basic rule – to treat everyone the same. A new book looks at this and other reforms.

Getting acceptance for your policies is never easy, but in a system with 27 countries that all take different approaches, it is even harder. Social Democrat MEP Jytte Guteland is one of those who have succeeded. She explains how to Bengt Rolfer and Gunhild Wallin, who spent some days in Strasbourg:

“Anyone who is interested in politics sees the Parliament as a smorgasbord of opportunities to make a change. In the beginning, you want to have a finger in every pie, but you then risk that no one at all sees what it is you want, which makes it hard to gain any influence,” says Jytte Guteland.  

We also get an update on the EU minimum wage saga. The French presidential election has slowed down the French EU presidency’s work on the directive. The war in Ukraine has also slowed things down. 

Languages are crucial for integration. But what happens if your own language does not work when you want to speak to Siri, Alexa or Bixby? Iceland has taken up the fight with the large international IT giants. 

“In 12 to 18 months, Siri will understand Icelandic,” says Jóhanna Vigdís Guðmundsdóttir who heads the language technology centre Almannarómur – The voice of the public.

Finally, we hear from the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Secretary General Paula Lehtomäki who has decided to step down after one term, when her four-year contract runs out in March 2023. 

According to tradition, a Danish candidate should be taking the reins. Dare we suggest Birgitte Nyborg from Danish TV series Borgen? After all, towards the end of the series she was (spoiler alert!) heading for a top position in the EU Commission. But it already has a strong Danish woman, namely Margrethe Vestager.


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