Removing border obstacles in the Nordic region is one of my priorities, proclaimed Britt Lundberg from Åland when she was elected the 2017 President of the Nordic Council during the Council’s Copenhagen session on 3 November. Border obstacles remain a core task for Nordic cooperation. The Norwegian Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers will continue to make it a priority in 2017.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg introduced the programme for the 2017 Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers to the parliamentarians in the Nordic Council. After the Nordic and Baltic prime ministers’ meeting on 2 November, she also presented the programme to Nordic and international media. Nordic countries wish to play a more active role internationally in concert, and the Presidency programme is coloured by this desire. The Norwegian 2017 Presidency will therefore be based on three main pillars; The Nordic region in transition, the Nordic region in Europe and the Nordic region in the world.
“The international development creates the frame for our Presidency,” Prime Minister Solberg said during her presentation.
Behind it all is the UN’s sustainability goals which present major demands for change, and the world’s refugee situation with more than 60 million displaced people and 125 million who are in need of help because of war and famine. This has strengthened cooperation on immigration. Erna Solberg also underlined the importance of Brexit.
“Brexit has put further pressure on the Nordic region. We are increasingly reminded of the importance of cooperation and solidarity. Looking outwards sharpens our senses.”
The Nordic region in transition will promote competitiveness during the transition to a green, low-emission economy. Closer cooperation on education, research and innovation will lead to improved competitiveness, growth and welfare, the programme says.
The Nordic region will pioneer new ways of responding to demographic changes in age, health and the way newcomers are integrated and included in society. The Norwegian Presidency will initiate a broad Nordic programme of cooperation on integration, focusing on the development and exchange of knowledge and practice.
Work, education and language are highlighted as key to successful integration and new wealth creation, as well as for preventing exclusion and radicalisation. The pillar the Nordic region in Europe focuses on strengthening cooperation on European policy.
“Today the EU is facing major changes and needs a strong Nordic region. We want a stronger focus on energy, climate and environment and on digitalisation, as well as on other areas where we have shared interests.
“The Nordic region is a leader when it comes to digitalisation.”
A Nordic-Baltic ministers’ meeting on digitalisation will be held later, together with the Baltic states. The aim is to take the first step towards a regional digitalisation drive.
The cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic states has been further strengthened because of the security situation. This was very much a theme during the debate on foreign policy and in the meeting between the Nordic and Baltic prime ministers.
The third pillar, the Nordic region in the world, focuses on joint Nordic initiatives which can help provide innovative solutions to areas where the Nordic countries have expertise. The Norwegian Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers will work to make formal and informal Nordic cooperation on foreign policies even more streamlined.
During 2017, Norway will for example work to further develop the cooperation between Nordic foreign policy institutes and support joint research projects and conferences.
The work to remove border obstacles between the Nordic countries is a core task for the Nordic cooperation on freedom of movement between the countries. During the press conference held by the Nordic and Baltic prime ministers, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said temporary border controls between Sweden and Denmark will remain for now.
“This is the biggest symbolic defeat,” said Espen Krogh, the newly elected leader for the Nordic Youth Council, in his speech to the parliamentarians.
“We believe we’re heading in the wrong direction. The most ambitious proposal is whether we should have a common Nordic citizenship, as suggested by the Centre Group. The other is to sign up to Nordic values.”
Åland’s Britt Lundberg was elected the new President of the Nordic Council at the end of the session. She is 53, a teacher, represents the Centre Party in Åland’s parliament and is part of the Centre Group at the Nordic Council. Åland is one of the autonomous areas which are not full members of the Nordic Council. She is therefore nominated as the Finnish candidate.
The fact that the autonomous areas Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland are not full members created a heated debate and an application for membership from the Faroe Islands, but this was not accepted. Åland still gets its President.