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Nordics, Nato and the neighbourhood

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-Chief

The Nordic Council is 70 this year, which was of course celebrated during its annual session in Helsinki. The Council President Erkki Tuomioja pointed out that parliamentarians cooperated for twenty years before the ministers got involved. In this edition, we take a closer look at the Nordic cooperation.

There are now calls for a revision of the Helsinki Treaty which was signed by the Nordic prime ministers on 23 March 1972 – creating the Nordic Council of Ministers. Although the Treaty has been revised eight times, it is 27 years since the last time.

The Treaty has been called the Nordic constitution, but contains far too many “should”s and far too few “shall”s. The Treaty ought to become more binding if it is to fulfil its intended function, wrote Henrik Wilén, leader of the Norden Association in Finland, in an opinion piece earlier this year.

Or as Bertel Haarder, the 2021 President of the Nordic Council, put it: 

“We want to break the principle of consensus so that it is no longer those who want to do the least who get to decide the most.”

Norwegian Jorodd Asphjell now takes over the presidency of the Nordic Council and will take the issue forward. He represents the Social Democrat group and says he wants to strengthen the Nordic cooperation during a time of several crises. After a pandemic that hit all parts of society, a war hit Europe.

“The Norwegian presidency programme will put Nordic crisis preparedness high on the agenda. Our experiences from handling the pandemic will be used to strengthen cooperation on preparedness in the Nordic countries. With Finland and Sweden as Nato members, we will also see closer Nordic defence cooperation,” says Jorodd Asphjell.

Next year, Iceland takes over the Nordic Council of Ministers presidency. The programme for the council is called “The Nordic Region – a Force for Peace”.

“The effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine are being felt across Europe and beyond, and the security situation in the West is changed completely. Such circumstances make the solidarity and cooperation of the Nordic nations vitally important,” the programme says.

At the Nordic Council of Ministers, a new person will be coordinating the Nordic cooperation. On 1 January, Karen Ellemann steps into the role of the new Secretary General. She is an experienced Danish politician who has been a minister in several government ministries. 

But what is the Nordic cooperation really made of? Parliamentarians and ministers do not always walk in step with each other. It is often pointed out that the parliamentarians can only provide recommendations when they meet during one main session and a themed session each year. The Nordic Council of Ministers, on the other hand, is not as unified as the name might suggest. It is not one, but several councils of ministers. There are currently 11 constellations of ministers plus the group that is made up of the Nordic ministers for cooperation. 

Before the ministers meet, groups of officials supported by representatives from various authorities prepare the ground. The Nordic Council of Ministers’ Co-operation on Labour for instance has representatives from both work administrations and work environment authorities. The labour ministers can use some of the Council of Ministers’ total budget of around one billion Danish kroner. Some of it goes to Nordic institutions like Nordjobb and NIVA, some goes to hosting or co-hosting conferences and some goes to research.

We report from the conference hosted by the Council of Ministers’ presidency in Oslo on 15 November, where one of the main messages was that if all the Nordic countries learned from each others’ successes, 700 000 more people could be in work across the Nordics.  

During the labour ministers’ meeting in Oslo on 22 November, Jon Erik Dølvik from the Fafo research foundation went through the collective agreement’s position in the Nordics and presented a completely new idea for how employers and emplyees can be encouraged to sign collective agreements. 

The Nordic cooperation is always to a degree in the shadow of what happens in the EU. For Sweden, which takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU for the first six months of 2023, this will become particularly clear during this period. Many of the border issues between the Nordic countries can only be solved in the EU, it is usually said.

But can you accelerate cooperation within one region, rather than for the whole of the EU and EEA? We spoke to three representatives for the Benelux cooperation. It is built in the same way as the Nordic cooperation and the three participating countries are often called Europe’s laboratory. Benelux has come further than the Nordics in at least one area.


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