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From Faroese independence to Nordic cooperation

From Faroese independence to Nordic cooperation

| Text: Rólant Waag Dam, photo: Bjarni Árting Rubeksen

When she was younger, Kristina Háfoss was known as one of the Faroe Islands’ top competition swimmers. In recent years she has been best known for her work for Faroese independence, but now she is also working actively for increased Nordic cooperation.

“Kristina never runs out of energy. As Minister of Finance, she has tried to turn a deficit to a surplus – every year. As a human being and politician, she is an unusual organisational and ideological talent. Always well-prepared. Always with an eye to the future. Always with integrity and clear goals. And always with extra energy for colleagues and for global and local challenges.”

This is how Høgni Hoydal describes Kristina Háfoss. He has led Tjóðveldi, the Faroese independence party, since 2001. That was also the year Háfoss joined the party. Hoydal knows Háfoss better than most and that is why I asked him for a quote for this story.

A Faroese power woman

Hoydal’s description of Háfoss is supported by her CV, which shows her to be quite the Faroese power woman.

Kristina Háfoss

She was the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Faroese parliament in 2002. Twice she has been a government minister – first in 2008 as minister for education, research and culture, then in 2015 as finance minister. She has been an economist at the Faroe Islands Governmental Bank and held leading positions in the listed bank Føroya Banki and in the Faroese’s largest insurance company, Tryggingarfelagið Føroyar.

She has degrees in law and politics from Copenhagen University and has later secured an  Executive Certificate in Business Administration (CBA). 

Kristina Háfoss is 45, has four children, a husband and a new house in Thorshavn just metres from her childhood home in Argir, an old village which has now grown to become part of the city of Thorshavn.

National team and gold medals

“Back then I was really into sports. We trained 11 times a week,” says Kristina Háfoss.

We meet her at home and she is looking across the river that separates Thorshavn and Argir, her youth and present time. If you do not know that the river marks the border between the city and the village, it can be difficult to say whether you are in one or the other.

30 years ago, when Kristina was young, things were different. There was no doubt that Argir was Argir and Thorshavn was Thorshavn. And back then, as now, there was no doubting who Háfoss was.

She won a lot of medals, joined the national team at 13 and stayed there for five years. But when Háfoss began her upper secondary education, her lessons gradually took over from her swimming. 

She did continue to do sport, however. Háfoss played volleyball, made it onto the youth national team and became Faroese champion with her club Fleyr in the top Faroese league.

“I started travelling at an early age with the national teams, especially around the Nordics. That made an impression,” she says in explanation to her developing an early interest in the Nordics.

“I saw how different the countries were. But I also saw strong, common values and that there are so many things that link us. That is also why I have often wondered why we have not made our strong cooperation even stronger,” says Háfoss.

The crisis became key

Her foreign adventures with her national team friends from swimming and volleyball inspired the young teenager. But back home on the Faroe Islands, the situation was far more serious. In 1992, they were hit by a deep economic crisis. 

Kristina Háfoss 2

“It was nearly impossible to understand that our society could suffer such an economical collapse. How could it have gone so wrong,” Háfoss asked herself while she read and listened to explanations and excuses form politicians and businesses.

“That’s when I decided to read national economy. I wanted the knowledge and tools needed to prevent this from happening again,” she says. Háfoss began her studies at Copenhagen University in 1995.

In her student digs in the Danish capital, she did her homework and read Faroese newspapers sent to her in the post once a week. She was deeply engaged in the situation in her home country but also frustrated that young voices were nearly non-existent in the debate. 

That is also why Háfoss started writing letters to the newspapers while studying politics.

“Most countries have realised that in future, good cross-border cooperation will be necessary if they are to have any impact internationally,” wrote student Háfoss in the Sosialurin newspaper on 18 November 1998.

A young woman getting engaged in this debate created a stir. At the time, Háfoss was not herself politically active,  but soon became part of the youth movement of the Republic Party (Tjóðveldi) – Unga Tjóðveldi.

After graduating in the summer of 2001, she moved home to the Faroe Islands and become a Tjóðveldi party member. She was then asked whether she would run for a seat in the Danish parliament that November. She got the second largest number of votes, 224, only beaten by party leader Høgni Hoydal.

The year after, she ran for a seat in the Faroese parliament and got 310 votes. At 26, she became the youngest female woman parliamentarian in the Faroe Islands ever.

“And the rest is history,” smiles Háfoss, before adding in a serious voice that it was not at all that.

Dumped by the voters

Her first shot at a parliamentarian career was cut short. Less than two years after being elected, a new election was called. Háfoss ran but only secured 135 votes, nearly 200 fewer than last time.

“I was incredibly disappointed that our coalition for independence could not stick together. That was a broken dream, and I was not particularly active in that election campaign when I first started. In retrospect I concluded that if you don’t use a campaign to show what you really mean, you get punished,” says Háfoss.

The next couple of years, Háfoss spent working as an economist, project leader and departmental head. She also stepped in as a deputy in parliament a few times. But in 2008 she made a political comeback and became a government minister. Since then she has been either an MP or government minister until she now steps into her leadership position at the Nordic Council of Ministers on 1 February 2021. This is a task she looks forward to.

Nordic region a model to the world

“The Nordic region is unique in so many areas. It is a role model for many countries around the world. And I believe the Nordics can become an even more important role model and trailblazer in education, innovation, digitalisation, environment and with our welfare model,” says Háfoss. The Arctic is another area she believes it will be important to focus on.

“To have our interests heard here takes both a strengthened and different kind of Nordic cooperation,” she says.

Although she has still not officially started in her position at the helm of the Nordic Council of Ministers, she has evidently started preparing for it a long time ago. That is another thing Hoydal praises Háfoss for. Her commitment, integrity and competence. But some also believe she is too clever; political enemies who call her a know-it-all and patronising. 

“I cannot escape from the fact that I have several educations. It perhaps makes some people want to confirm their prejudices. But yes, I do spend a lot of time preparing and always try to go out of my way to do well,” says Háfoss from her new home in Thorshavn.

Soon she will also have a new office in Copenhagen. She will move on from politics and working for independence for the 18 small islands in the North Atlantic to spearheading increased cooperation between eight countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroes, Greenland and Åland.

A task that suits Háfoss perfectly, according to Hoydal.

“Kristina is a global politician with her feet firmly planted on Faroese and Nordic ground. She always achieves concrete results from her intense and to-the-point efforts.”

Kristina Háfoss

takes over as the new General Secretary of the Nordic Council on 1 February, with the overall responsibility for the Nordic Council Secretariat. The secretariat has many and varied tasks, including supporting the Council's bodies, planning and preparing meetings and conferences and preparing matters for political decisions. The Secretariat also supports the Council in its international contacts and ensures information to, and contact with, the media and the general public.


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