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Outgoing Secretary General: keep the Nordic focus

Outgoing Secretary General: keep the Nordic focus

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo:

The Nordic region and Nordic cooperation is held in high regard at home and abroad, so keep up the high levels of ambitions. That was the parting message for Nordic parliaments and governments from the Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers Dagfinn Høybråten, as he stepped down after six years today.

Dagfinn Høybråten from Norway left the Secretary General’s office in Copenhagen for the last time on Friday afternoon with a smile. He leaves behind a renewed and vitalised cooperation between the Nordic countries, and can consider his main mission as accomplished.    

“The Nordic governments have set the bar high for Nordic cooperation in recent years. The aim is for it to be the world’s most integrated region, and that ambition has been followed up with concrete measures. The Nordic Council of Ministers has been run more efficiently, and we have seen a range of important initiatives for even closer Nordic operation,” says Dagfinn Høybråten.

Høybråten in Svalbard

The Nordics cooperate on many things, including a seed vault in Svalbard

His main achievement

As Secretary General he has taken the initiative to thoroughly analyse central Nordic areas of cooperation in order to bring to light any potential for even closer cooperation between the Nordics. This has resulted in more joint political agendas and more binding cooperation within both old and new areas. 

He does not want to take all the credit for this success, but considers one of his main achievements to be the effort he put into producing thorough analysis of where and how the Nordic countries could cooperate closer and better.

“We found inspiration in the Nordic defence cooperation’s methodology, and looked at areas including health, working life, environment, social and working environments to identify unfulfilled potential for Nordic cooperation. This has helped us clear the way for political agreements and cooperation.”  

Cooperation within the health sector and labour markets has been analysed, and later intensified. One new area for cooperation is digitalisation. Dagfinn Høybråten sees great potential here.

“We have set up a new council of ministers for digitalisation to help remove digital barriers and to leverage the Nordics’ leadership position in order to lead the realisation of a digital single market and a joint digital infrastructure. This has gigantic potential.”

Høybråten 2

Keep the momentum going

The Nordic countries must be willing to invest in cooperation if the momentum in this and other areas of cooperation is to be kept up. Nordic cooperation needs to remain a political priority, points out Dagfinn Høybråten. 

His parting advice to the Nordic countries’ governments and parliaments is “to keep the momentum going”

“Maintain the high levels of ambitions for Nordic cooperation which we have seen in recent years. Nordic citizens want this, and the rest of the world is also looking to the Nordics for good solutions. So there is clearly a need to invest in Nordic cooperation.”

He does not want to say exactly where the Nordic cooperation goes from here, since he himself is on his way out. But one task must be to carry on highlighting the values of Nordic cooperation both inside and outside of the Nordic region, he believes.

“During my time as Secretary General we gave the branding of the Nordic region and Nordic cooperation a higher priority, because internationally there is a great thirst for all things Nordic – from food and TV series to paternal leave and the entire Nordic welfare model. Sadly, Nordic media do not share that curiosity.”

Nordic media showed little interest, for instance, when the Nordic Council of Ministers published a report which showed that the Nordic region might be the world’s happiest place, but that the joy is unevenly distributed. International media made it a big story, and only as a result of that did the story take off in Nordic media, he says.

It is difficult to highlight the good things about Nordic cooperation within the Nordics themselves, and Dagfinn Høybråten admits that the Nordic Council of Ministers has failed to find a good solution to this problem also during his time at the helm. But the Nordic Council of Ministers cannot solve this alone.

“Only political leadership can change the fact that Nordic cooperation does not make headlines in the Nordic region. Politicians in their respective countries must show that they take Nordic cooperation seriously by committing themselves to real, common policy developments,” says Dagfinn Høybråten.

Some critics claim Nordic cooperation suffers under a lot of expensive bureaucracy, but during Dagfinn Høybråten’s time, the Nordic Council of Ministers as an organisation has been streamlined and made more efficient. Decision-making and working methods have been simplified, there has been an improvement in performance management and administrative costs have been cut. He sees room for further improvement, but believes the process to be well underway. He thinks Nordic citizens are getting good value for money.

“Nordic cooperation costs each citizen on average 40 kroner (€4.10) a year – the price of a visit to the baker’s. I believe Nordic citizens are getting a lot of value for their money.”

Høybråten 3

An important leadership task

During his time at the helm of the Nordic Council of Ministers, his biggest personal satisfaction has come from the work to develop and renew the organisation. This has been a source of joy and has helped him mature as a leader, he thinks. 

“For me, the greatest joy has been to work together with such skilled and engaged people. This has helped me develop as a leader, and it has developed the organisation and the people within it.”

He will also get the chance to put his organisation leadership skills to good use when he enters into a new secretary general position on the 1st of April. This time it is in his home country of Norway, as leader for the humanitarian organisation Norwegian Church Aid. The organisation hopes Dagfinn Høybråten will help strengthen its position and reputation in the face of big demands for change and flexibility.

Before taking his position as Secretary General for the Nordic Council of Ministers, Dagfinn Høybråten was active in Norwegian politics for more than 30 years. He has been Minister for Health, Minister for Labour and Minister for Social Affairs, representing the Christian Democrats.

He is replaced as Secretary General for the Nordic Council of Ministers by Finland’s Paula Lehtomäki.



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