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Portugal and Finland head Councils of Ministers

Portugal and Finland head Councils of Ministers

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo: António Pedros Santos and Laura Kotila

The Corona pandemic has demonstrated that good cooperation is not only desirable but literally vital, says the programme for Finland’s 2021 Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. At the same time, Portugal heads the Council of the European Union where the creation of a European health union will be a key issue.

How do the goals for government cooperation differ between the EU and the Nordic countries?  One way of finding out is to look at what aims the Presidency countries in the two Councils of Ministers have and which keywords they use. Finland goes for sustainability while Portugal highlights resilience.

Both the EU and the Nordics have a council of ministers that coordinates cooperation between the different countries’ governments. They both have rotating presidencies. Finland holds the Presidency for 2021, and in the EU a trio of countries share the Presidency over 18 months. Portugal holds it for the coming six months. 

At the beginning of a Presidency, there is usually much optimism around how to develop the cooperation.

“Finland is ready to roll up its sleeves and get down to work,” writes Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in the introduction to the Finnish Presidency programme.

Unforeseen crises

The difficult task of reconciling the different countries’ agendas usually means things go slowly. Or you get unforeseen crisis like the Corona pandemic, which meant last year’s Danish Presidency could not execute its projects in the way it had planned.

“The global pandemic in 2020 underscores the necessity of international, European and regional co-operation. People in the Nordic countries also expect their governments to engage in closer co-operation. Topical themes of cooperation include promoting freedom of movement as well as security of supply and preparedness for future crises,” says Sanna Marin.

Finland, Norway and Iceland have approximately 10 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people, Denmark has 30 while Sweden has 100. 

Still optimistic

The Corona pandemic also overshadows most things in the Portuguese programme. It is described as an “unprecedented challenge” for the EU and its member states, requiring decisive and wide-ranging action. But Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa still strikes an optimistic tone in the Portuguese programme.

“We have the vision, the programme and the financial instruments needed to set out together along a path of hope, confidence and credibility. Our rallying cry will therefore be: ‘Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery’.” 

Freedom of movement has never before been so limited in the Nordic region as it is right now, however. Except for Hungary (that has completely shut its borders), Norway is the country with the toughest quarantine rules for arrivals.


The map from The Norwegian Institute of Public Health shows the countries whose citizens must quarantine at arrival in Norway. Red is EU countries, stripy is European countries outside of the Union. Only people from Greenland and parts of Finland (in yellow) escape quarantine. 

The situation in Portugal is worse still. After first doing better than neighbouring countries, infection rates rose dramatically. The country is in complete shutdown, but still have the world’s highest number of new infections measured as a rolling average over the past seven days per million of citizens. 

Covid graph

Portugal and Finland are polar opposites in the graph above showing how many people contracted Covid-19 in the past seven days.

At the start of the Corona pandemic around a year ago, headlines focused on the lack of PPE and how countries around the world were desperately outbidding each other. Cooperation around vaccine distribution has worked better, even though there has also been criticism of the slow rollout of vaccines.

“We will contribute to ensuring that the process of vaccination against Covid-19 takes place simultaneously in all member states and that the vaccine is a universal good, both public and free,” promises Portugal.

Green transformation

Both the Nordics and the EU aim to make the enormous transformation the countries are facing – not only because of the Corona pandemic, but also because of digitalisation – as green as possible. The Finnish programme embraces the Nordic welfare model as something that secures equitable change through democracy, the rule of law, good governance, openness, trust and a strong civil society. 

Portugal chooses to focus on the European pillar for social rights in its programme:

A central theme of Portugal's Presidency will be to strengthen the European social model, so as to transmit a sense of confidence to citizens. The aim will be to ensure that the dual climate and digital transition is achieved in an inclusive way, without leaving anyone behind.”

What will probably be the most important meeting during the Portuguese Presidency will be the summit held on 7 and 8 May in Porto. First, there will be a high-level meeting with different institutions, the social partners and voluntary organisations, followed by a meeting of EU ministers the next day. They will discuss employment, skills and welfare issues.

The Finnish Presidency will mark the 50 years anniversary of the Council of Ministers’ foundation, and Åland’s centenary as an autonomous region.

Finland therefore has two Nordic Ministers for Cooperation for the first time: Thomas Blomqvist and Annette Holmberg-Jansson. The first is Minister for Cooperation in the Finnish government, while the latter is Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the Government of Åland.

Costa and Marin

Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa presents his programme for the Council of the European Union at the EU Parliament on 19 January. Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin (above right) heads the 2021 Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Nordic Ministers for Cooperation for this period are Thomas Blomqvist, also Minister for Equality in Finland, and Annette Holmberg-Jansson, also Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the Government of Åland.

Read the entire Portuguese programme here

Portugal programme

You can also read the programme in Portuguese, French, German and Slovenian.

Read the entire Finnish programme here

Finnish programme

You can also read the programme in Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic and Sami.

Council of the European Union

The presidency of the Council rotates among the EU member states every 6 months. During this 6-month period, the presidency chairs meetings at every level in the Council, helping to ensure the continuity of the EU's work in the Council.

Member states holding the presidency work together closely in groups of three, called 'trios'. This system was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. The trio sets long-term goals and prepares a common agenda determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over an 18 month period. On the basis of this programme, each of the three countries prepares its own more detailed 6-month programme.

The current trio is made up of the presidencies of the Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. 

Read more:

The Nordic Council of Ministers
The Nordic Council of Ministers is made up by one or several government ministers from each country. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have been members of the Nordic Council of Ministers since 1971. Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland have also gained increased representation and a stronger position in the Nordic Council of Ministers and in reality now have parity with the above-mentioned countries.
Each country has one vote in the Council, which can be made up by Ministers for Cooperation or ministers from relevant fields – or a combination of both. Representatives from the Faroese, Greenland and Åland governments also participate in the Council of Ministers' work.

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