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Nordic cooperation - two sides to the coin?

| Text: Helmut Steuer

“The Nordic countries are unique” “The Nordic countries are a model” “The Nordic countries may serve as an example”. The reputation of the Nordic countries is on the whole rather favourable.

From the outside, these countries are considered to be an example of cooperation across the borders, without prestige and exaggerated patriotism. As one example, the  passport and customs union is often highlighted. It was introduced already in 1954, with the common labour market as maybe the most significant contribution, allowing for the citizens of the Nordic countries to seek employment all over the region without too many administrative obstacles.

Long before the Schengen agreement granted millions of Europeans the opportunity to travel across the Continent, Northerners might just have been doing that within their territory. Going by air from Helsinki to Oslo with no need to show the passport was one of the distinctly visible effects of that little Union up North.

A shared history, a language, which at least in Denmark, Norway and Sweden is pretty much like those of their Nordic cousins, and a view of the community which, in all Nordic countries alike, is characterized by interdependence and solidarity, justice and equal rights, have indeed contributed to the integration process in the whole region.As of next year, the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania become member states of the EU, and it may be assumed that even those new democracies will be part of the Nordic concept.

There are already numerous cooperation projects put into practice between the Nordic countries and the Baltic States. If you ask passers-by in Latvia’s capital Riga about their closest neighbours, they are likely to reply Sweden and Norway.A stroll through the Old City of Riga gives evidence of the newcomers from the Nordic neighbours: From the Dressman shop to Rema 1000, from H&M to Nordea, the Nordic presence is easily noticeable.

The same goes for Tallin, where the Finnish influence is impressive, not only the language, but also in politics and economy, you simply cannot miss it. All the Nordic countries were up and about from the very beginning, and helped the Baltic republics to build functioning democracies after decades of Soviet occupation. This has been done with care and sensitivity: Do not ride roughshod over, but consider
distinct interests and national preferences in the new states.

There is no need to guess too much whether the new Nordic region will comprise more countries as of next year.

So far so good. There are, however, always two sides of a coin: The Nordic cooperation has its weak sides. The joint concern is frequently disturbed as national interest takes the helm.The desire to be the best in the region has, unfortunately, developed into another form of martial art. Just contemplate the field for tax reductions, where the Nordic countries compete for the lowest corporate taxes, the lowest taxes on alcohol and so forth. Or say, the attempts to impede mergers of Nordic companies just because one country feels like being runover. Inside the Nordic community a kind of competition has been let loose to ascertain which nation is the leading. Competition is excellent, so the saying goes. But it may occasionally turn into a brake block, an impediment.

Such an outcome would be a pity, more so as the new Europe may learn quite a lot from this region:A peaceful liberation like that of the Baltic states is feasible, old enemies may talk to each other again, and above all, an entire region can overcome ancient controversies and cooperate without sacrificing their national identities.

The Europe of the Regions, so much the topic of conversation in Brussels, has already become a reality in the Nordic countries, although on a small scale. Following the extension of EU in May 2004, the “new Nordic Region” will be inhabited by some 80 million people. For that reason, the region is likely to have some impact within Europe. It is essential to prove that we, in the Nordic countries, are able to preserve that in which we excel:To integrate without running over, to coordinate without dictating.That is indeed the Nordic model, which quite a few other regions around the world may learn from.


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