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You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2020 i Theme: Nordic Council of Ministers i "More hard issues should be discussed at the Nordic Council"
"More hard issues should be discussed at the Nordic Council"
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"More hard issues should be discussed at the Nordic Council"

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Protect democracy, fight fake news and protect biological diversity. These are issues on the agenda for Iceland’s 2020 Presidency of the Nordic Council. Another focus area is to improve knowledge of Nordic languages.

Andreas Norlén“Democracy is one of the basic values that characterise our Nordic societies. Looking forward, we must secure democracy for each new generation. Targeted and long-term efforts are needed to carry this through, and we do it best together. We are partners in democracy on the international arena,” said Swedish parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén as he welcomed the 87 parliamentarians and Nordic Prime Ministers to Stockholm and the 71st session of the Nordic Council in October.

It took some time for the delegates to settle down and listen to the speaker and the singing afterwards. Many of them seemed to know each other, and as the hall was filling up people waved, shook hands and got chatting. The Swedish parliament, the venue for this session, seemed to be filled with expectations, happiness and hope for the coming days of meetings about common Nordic issues.

“It almost feels like a cliché to say that this is something unique. The fact that we once every year get to meet parliamentarians, most of them Government Ministers from the other Nordic countries, with an agenda of cooperation. Maintaining direct contact between Nordic decision-makers on all levels is at the core of the Nordic cooperation,” Høgni Hoydal later tells the Nordic Labour Journal in a telephone interview. He is one of the participants from the Faroe Islands, and a veteran of these sessions.

Many setbacks but also gains

It is now nearly 70 years since the Nordic Council held its first ever session in February 1953 at Christiansborg in Denmark, with participants from Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Sweden. Finland joined 1955 and today the autonomous areas of the Faroe Islands, Åland and Greenland also have their own representatives. The Nordic Council of Ministers was founded in 1971, and since then the Nordic Prime Ministers have been meeting regularly, as wells as other Government Ministers. There is cooperation on pretty much everything except foreign policy.

In the history of the Nordic cooperation there are many examples of great ambitions that failed or came to nothing. But decisions have also been made that have fundamentally changed Nordic citizens' opportunities. The Nordic passport union was introduced as early as in 1952, the common Nordic labour market was introduced on 2 July 1954 and one year later a Nordic convention on social security came into force.

“The 1954 agreement which regulates the common labour market is very important. The fact that I, as a Nordic citizen, can work or study in another Nordic country, is what people see and feel to be important,” says Christina Springfeldt, head of knowledge and research as well as welfare and social issues at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Copenhagen offices.

She has also spent many years working with EU issues at the Swedish Prime Minister’s office, and compares the long and comprehensive processes that take place within the EU with the Nordic cooperation; the Nordic cooperation works better. 

“We can learn a lot from each other in the Nordic region, and it is easy to transfer experiences. There is also a levelof trust, we are among friends and can also share problems,” says Christina Springfeldt. 

”A huge level of activity in the different areas”

The Nordic Council can influence the budget for the Nordic cooperation and come up with recommendations to the Nordic Council of Ministers for certain areas which parliamentarians consider to be particularly important, says Daniel Jaakkola, who works on the Secretary-General's staff at the Copenhagen office.

Daniel Jaakkola

Daniel Jaakkola

"This questions and recommendations can be compared to motions tabled in the national parliaments. And if the Nordic Council delegates are not happy with the proposals from the Nordic Council of Ministers, they can demand to have a dialogue with their government representatives," he says.

One of Jaakkola's jobs is to prepare meetings for the Nordic Committee for Cooperation, NSK, and for the Ministers for Cooperation, MR-SAM, which are held four to six times a year. The Nordic Prime Ministers are ultimately responsible for the cooperation between Nordic governments, yet the Nordic Ministers for Cooperation take care of this in practice. They then delegate jobs as they happen to the NSK. The NSK is made up of senior civil servants from the Nordic countries' civil services, and also operate as the board for the Copenhagen secretariat.

"I have now gained a bird's eye view of the Nordic cooperation, and I see that there is a huge level of activity in the different areas. This has surprised me," says Daniel Jaakkola.

The important direct contacts

The Nordic Council decides the budget for the Nordic cooperation and will give recommendations to the Nordic Council of Ministers on issues which parliamentarians feel are particularly important to focus on. Høgni Hoydal, a parliamentarian from the Faroe Islands, is one of those who have participated at the Nordic Council many times. He is part of the Nordic Green Left party group and sits on the committee for welfare. He is passionate about the Nordic cooperation and would like to see it go even deeper – perhaps even a union.

Høgni Hoydal

In his 20 years of participating at the Nordic Council sessions, he has witnessed both progress and setbacks. Many major steps have originated in grandiose failures, which little by little have turned into conventions which have granted Nordic citizens important rights – like a common labour market and access to Nordic educations. 

When Finland and Sweden joined the EU, the Nordic cooperation experienced a setback. It almost became an appendix to the EU, as Høgni Hoydal puts it. Another sign of falling interest was that spaces at the Nordic Council were seen as less attractive or interesting than before. 

“But the cooperation regained some of its vitality in 2006 and 2007 with the Stoltenberg report on defence and security in the Arctic, which is one of the most important regions for Nordic cooperation,” he says.

As a Faroese politician, Høgni Hoydal sees the advantage of pushing issues through the Nordic cooperation first, before taking them to Europe and out into the wider world. He is therefore concerned about the fact that the Nordic corporation is not very well known, especially among younger people.

Current issues which he feels to be particularly important include creating joint Nordic policies for all of the ocean areas in the North and in the Arctic – areas which are attracting more and more international interest.

“In order to vitalise the cooperation I also want to see more ‘hard’ issues being discussed at the Nordic Council, and what is being discussed there should always be brought back to the national parliaments. If not, the issues being debated at the Nordic Council are easily forgotten,” he says.

Nicolas Kujala

Nicholas Kujala, leader for the Nordic Youth Council. Photo: Magnus Fröderberg

The newly elected leader for the Nordic Youth Council, Nicholas Kujala from Finland, represents the Nordic centre-liberal youth parties. He believes it is important to support the role played by young people in the Nordic cooperation, and would like to see Nordic measures aiming more money being on the youth sector in general as well as on the political youth organisations in particular.

“The political youth organisations represent the backbone of the Nordic system, so it is important to give young people influence and the opportunity to participate in the Nordic cooperation,” he says.

He says his was a “strong, Nordic upbringing”, with both his mother and grandmother active in the Finnish Norden Association.

“The Nordics mean a lot to me. As long as you are here you don’t really see all there is, but travel abroad and you see the Nordic countries’ community clearly,” he says.

The Nordic Council in Stockholm was his second session, and he felt the young people were heard. 

“During the Swedish Presidency, we have been listened to more and there is a shared willingness to take young people into consideration on issues relating to climate change and the future labour market. There is pressure on people to listen to us now,” says Nicholas Kujala. 

He highlights the importance of creating a Nordic electronic ID card, which could ease young people’s mobility. But he also underlines the importance of strengthening the Nordic cooperation on issues concerning the Arctic region. 

“Many others are taking an interest in the Arctic, and the Nordics must remain strong and protect Arctic interests both for the native indigenous populations and for the environment. Climate change cannot be ignored, and we must find solutions that go beyond mere words,” says Nicholas Kujala.

Filed under:
Voting at the Nordic Council

Thumbs up for a proposal during the Nordic Council's session in Stockholm 2019 (above)

Facts about the Nordic Council

The Nordic Council was founded in 1952 by Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Finland became a member in 1955. The autonomous areas of the Faroe Islands and Åland joined in 1970 and finally Greenland came onboard in 1984. There is also the Nordic Youth Council, which is always invited to the Nordic Council’s sessions where it also has the right to be heard. 

The Nordic Council has a general meeting once every year. The 87 representatives parliamentarians from the respective countries. Each country has 20 seats, except Iceland which has seven. Denmark has granted two seats each to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and Finland has granted two seats to Åland. The autonomous areas’ position has been strengthened through the 2007 Åland Document.

During sessions, representatives are divided into party groups: the Conservative Group, Nordic Green Left, the Centre Group and Nordic Freedom. Session work is carried out in four committees covering different areas: Knowledge and Culture, a Sustainable Nordic Region, Growth and Development and Welfare in the Nordic Region. 

The Nordic Council’s session is always held in week 44 in the country that holds the Presidency. Iceland holds the Presidency in 2020, while Denmark holds the Presidency for the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

The Nordic Council decides the budget for the Nordic cooperation, proposes areas of priority and gives out five prizes for environmental work, children and young people’s literature, literature, film and music.

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