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How unique is the Nordic Council?

How unique is the Nordic Council?

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

How unique is the Nordic cooperation, with its Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers? The nearest European parallels are the Benelux Union and the Benelux Parliament. At least in one area they have taken cooperation even further. But while people in the Nordics call themselves nordbor, no one calls themselves Beneluxianian.

“No, nobody does,” says Patricia Creutz with a laugh. She is the Chair of the Benelux Parliament and attends the Helsinki session as an observer alongside Christine Bogaert and Jef van den Bergh.

“But in many ways, we work in the same way as the Nordics. Only we meet more often since we are so close together and our meetings are always held in Brussels. We have committee meetings eight to ten times a year, and three plenary sessions a year,” she says.

Although the Benelux Union can be compared with the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Benelux Parliament with the Nordic council, our administration is much smaller; only three people are working permanently for the Benelux Parliament.” 

The members of the Nordic Council often (maybe too often) talk about the Nordic countries being at the forefront of many issues.

“This might be correct in terms of the environment, renewable energy etc. But there are other issues where we have come further,” says Christine Bogaert, Secretary-General at the Benelux Parliament. 

“When the EU was founded, Benelux was the only regional cooperation that got a mention. the Benelux has a 'testing ground function' within the EU. Thanks to Article 350 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the three countries are allowed to agree on decisions that deviate from EU rules which means that the Benelux countries can cooperate more intensively within the European Union. Benelux countries can go further in terms of cooperation than the rest of the EU if they wish,” says Christine Bogaert.

Foto: Johannes Jansson/

Patricia Creutz, President of the Benelux Parliament, speaks to the Nordic Council. Photo: Johannes Jansson/

One of those areas of cooperation is the automatic recognition of higher education diplomas. The Benelux countries have decided that all university and higher education diplomas from one country is equally valid in the others.

“Perhaps you think that the Bologna Process takes care of this?” asks Patricia Creutz and answers by wagging her finger. 

“No, no, no, that does not work. The Bologna Process is what we in deutch call a papiertiger

This has also been a goal for Nordic cooperation, ever since the 1962 Helsinki Treaty of cooperation among the Nordic countries. But some occupations and educations still do not enjoy this kind of automatic recognition.  

The Benelux countries began recognising each other’s diplomas in 2015. The Baltics were curious about what this meant, and in 2019, Patricia Creutz and others presented the agreement during the Baltic Council session in Tartu in Estonia.  

“Their reaction was ‘wow! This is about trust, isn’t it?’,” says Patricia Creutz.

“‘Yes’, we answered.”

Trust was clearly something the Baltics shared because in 2019 they passed a similar resolution to recognise each other’s diplomas. 

“Not only that, but this year we also passed a resolution which means all Benelux diplomas will be recognised in the Baltic countries and vice versa,” says Christine Bogaert. 

“This shows how the Benelux cooperation brings added value,” says Belgian MP Jef Van den Bergh. 

“That is also why the Benelux countries are sometimes called ‘Europe’s laboratory. It is easier to start with three countries rather than all 27 at once,” he says.

While the Benelux parliamentary sessions are similar to those of the Nordic Council, the equivalent to the Council of Ministers usually sees the foreign ministers from the three countries meet. 

“The Benelux foreign and prime ministers always meet to coordinate their approach ahead of EU meetings – or refrain to do it if one of the countries does not agree,” says Patricia Creutz. 

This year, Luxembourg holds the presidency for the Benelux Union’s Council of Ministers.

“Monsieur Jean Asselborn heads the cooperation and calls the Council of Ministers’ meetings. When the Benelux parliament holds thematic sessions, like in the spring when we discussed the inundations that hit large parts of Europe last year, the relevant government ministers are of course invited,” says Christine Bogaert.

If you were to look into the future, do you see the Benelux cooperation still existing in 50 years, or will the EU have taken over completely by then?

“I can give you an example, as I also represent a smaller region covering German-speaking people in Belgium. We haven’t been a part of Belgium for that long, and we once belonged to Germany. People ask me what would happen if my region got independence, would we lean towards France or Germany?” says Patricia Creutz, who is also a member of the Parliament of the German-speaking Community.  

“But it is not this that the inter-parliamentary cooperation focuses on, because we also belong to a larger region, La grande region, which is made up of Lorraine and Moselle in France, Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, Wallonia in Belgium and Luxembourg and some others. For people in all these regions it is important to be able to live as much as possible without borders,” she says. 

“This is the reality for those who live there, and since Benelux is made up of three small countries we have to continue to cooperate.”

Filed under:
Three observers at the Nordic Council session

Christine Bogaert, Secretary-General for the Benelux Parliament, Jef van den Bergh, Belgian MP and Patricia Creutz, Chair for the Benelux Parliament, also participated at the Nordic Council session in Helsinki, and found time to talk to the Nordic Labour Journal in the funkis style Swedish parliament café.

Regional cooperation in the middle of Europe

Benelux logo

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg began cooperating while their governments were in exile in London during WWII. In 1944 they agreed on a customs union which came into force in 1948. In 1958 the three countries entered into a union called Benelux, which is organised with a Benelux Parliament comprising 49 MPs from the Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourgian parliaments, plus a Council of Ministers.



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