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Kick off for "How are you doing in the Nordic countries?"

Kick off for "How are you doing in the Nordic countries?"

| Text: Berit Kvam, photo Björn Lindahl

Kick off in Turku/Åbo for the Finnish Presidency and a great drive for Nordic cross-sector cooperation. How can work, welfare and culture be combined?

How are you doing in the Nordic countries? That is the simple question from Finland when it puts water, nature and people centre stage during its Presidency.

Anne Berner“The Nordic region is doing well, despite our current problems both with the refugee situation and with our borders,” is the brief answer from Finnish government minister Anne Berner.

She wants to do something about these challenges. Anne Berner is the Minister for Nordic Cooperation. During the Finnish Presidency, she heads the cooperation between the cooperation ministers from the other Nordic countries. 

She and her colleagues have initiated a Nordic prime ministerial meeting to allow the prime ministers to discuss how to restore freedom of movement within the Nordic region and at the same time put the refugee issue on a joint agenda - because these two issues go together. Still, she says:

“The Nordic region is doing well. The lives of Nordic citizens are steadily improving, they enjoy better health, schools keep getting better and there is strength in the fact that we enjoy far more gender equality than people in other countries,” she points out.

27 January saw the kick off for Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers 2016 in Åbo/Turku, and the starting point for the cross-sector project “An Open and Innovative Nordic Region with Healthy People 2020 – Equal Opportunities for Welfare, Culture, Education and Work.”

Open and innovative

“In 2016 it is 60 years since Finland participated in a Nordic meeting for the first time,” said Minister Berner in her opening speech.

“Back then too, welfare was on the agenda. Much has happened since, now the new question is how the Nordic welfare model should develop in the future.”

Dynamic Challenge

One of the conference’s cultural performances was "Dynamic Challenge” with Vilja Parkkinen

New questions and new phenomena need new answers. This is the starting point for the three year long cross-sector prioritisation project, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

The initiative contains proposals which include political sectors within culture, education, society, health, equality, employment and innovation. Welfare, diversity, gender equality and culturally sustainable development are common themes for the project and for a range of conferences which are to be held during the Presidency. The project will continue during future presidencies.

Nordic added value

The aim is to create a joint vision on a political level for how to maintain knowledge development which brings added value on a Nordic scale. The Nordic political cooperation on welfare is to be strengthened and developed though the exchange of information. Children and youths are a priority.

“We are struggling with issues like sustainability in our welfare services, cooperation between different players and the third sector. This innovation project might allow us to find new ways of doing things and new ways of cooperating.

“The project should support different solutions. Structural challenges are real for everyone in the Nordic region, and especially in Finland,” says Minister for Cooperation Anne Berner.

She highlighted the importance of digitisation in the developing of the welfare sector. Digitisation improves access to services, for instance cultural services, and better use of electronic data strengthens scientific cooperation between institutions and countries.

Nordic cooperation on research can contribute to improving the health and welfare sectors, underlined Anne Berner and mentioned research on register data, biobanks and public health research as examples where better cooperation can improve the research’s international standing.

“The way in which we cooperate and make use of digitisation can foster new solutions, and we can help each other going forward.”

Social entrepreneurship

The Minister for Cooperation was particularly keen on improving employment in a socially sustainable manner through social entrepreneurship.

“We need new ways of promoting social entrepreneurship in the whole of the Nordic region in order to create welfare and to look after all human resources,” said Anne Berner in her opening speech at the kick off for the Finnish Presidency.

“One hundred years ago women were given the right to vote. This meant more justice but it also led to more creativity. Gender equality is important, so is integrating everyone - including the new people coming to the Nordic region.”

Nordic freedom of movement

Removing border obstacles and strengthening the freedom of movement between the Nordic countries has been on the agenda since the Nordic Passport Union was introduced in 1954. It remains a key area for cooperation during the Finnish Presidency.

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What is the most important Nordic issue right now?

Name: Kaisa Kutilainen

Represents: Kultuurikaveri (a Finnish organisation helping people looking for a “culture companion”, i.e. someone to share cultural experiences with).

Kaisa Kutilainen


The most important issue is the economy. I am worried about how it will affect welfare  in the Nordic region. The large number of refugees means some of the political opinions being voiced clash with the Nordic notion of equal access to services.

Name: Esa Vienamo

Represents: The regional council for Southern Ostrobothnia

Esa Vienamo


We try to increase cultural cooperation between different municipalities and are interested in finding out whether there are similar things being done in other Nordic countries. We are looking for new models of cooperation.

Name: Outi Salonlahti

Represents: Culture for All 

Outi Salonlahti


The refugees represent the most important issue in the Nordic region right now. All the Nordic countries share the same problem of how to handle the flow of refugees. We must improve our cooperation in this matter.

Name: Mira Korhonen

Represents: Nordjobb

Mira Korhonen


The most important issue is what is happening on the Nordic labour market. There is a crisis in Finland any many youths want to have the opportunity to travel to other countries to find work. At Nordjobb we have arranged temporary jobs for 300 youths, but that is only a fraction of the total number of applicants, perhaps 10 to 20 percent. They only work for a short while, so they don’t run into many problems, but what we most often hear is that it is difficult to open bank accounts in other Nordic countries.

Name: Vera Schrey

Represents: An EU project aimed at establishing an education for culture workers in the social sector 

Vera Schrey


Our courses are attended by both artists, producers and professional nursing staff. Many studies show culture has a positive effect on [x her mangler det et ord?]. We really believe the role of the producer is important, since they are the ones who can bring artists together with other sectors. Perhaps in future we can also have a special education for Nordic producers?

Name: Maria Grönroos

Represents: NIKK (Nordic Information on Gender)

Maria Grönroos


The refugee issue. There is a lot of knowledge in the Nordic region. It is also possible to work across authorities and organisations. In Gothenburg we have two young swimming instructors who have started a business learning refugee children how to swim. A goal which is closer to what we do is to find a shared terminology when debating equality. This varies enormously between different Nordic countries.


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