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International cooperation key to effective digitalisation

International cooperation key to effective digitalisation

| Text: Lars Bevanger, photo: Karin Oddner

The Nordics are accelerating the digitalisation of society at least as fast as the rest of Europe. That brings advantages and challenges, according to Nordic and EU politicians who met for a webinar on digitalisation in early March.

We have all been thrown headfirst into digitalisation over the past 12 months. Many are working from home using tools like Zoom, Teams and Google Meet while we shop online and our children sit in front of their screens during homeschooling. 

The main aim with digitalisation is to improve people’s lives and to reduce social inequalities. The Corona pandemic has highlighted both the opportunities and challenges we are facing. What have we learned and where do we go as citizens, societies and authorities?

National politics not enough

“Increasing digitalisation will have both positive and negative effects on people and society. It is highly dependent on what policies we implement in education, the labour market, consumer rights and more,” said Pyry Niemi.


Pyry Niemi. Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/

He is a Swedish Social Democrats MP and Chair of the Nordic Council’s Committee on Growth and Development in the Nordic Region. Niemi believes that if we do not get our policies right we might end up with greater social inequalities between those who have access to digital tools and data and those who have not. 

It is not enough to implement policies on a national or Nordic level – we need to cooperate on a European level, he argues.

“Our national systems need to be able to talk to each other. No country can implement effective policies alone. That is why the Nordic Council of Ministers has established a special council of ministers for digitalisation, in close cooperation with the Baltic states. That is also why the European Commission has made digitalisation one of its main priorities until 2024,” said Pyry Niemi.

Wants to challenge the tech giants

Several of the webinar’s participants pointed to the fight between Facebook and Australia as an important example of why countries need to coordinate their digital strategies.

“Some tech giants even believe they are greater than states,” said Morten Løkkegaard from the Danish Venstre party. He is a member of the EU Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes and works closely with the relationship between the EU and the tech giants.

"The recent power game between Facebook and Australia is an example in point." 

Facebook shut off access to news services on its platform in Australia when the country demanded the company pay the media whose content was shared there.

Løkkegaard argued the Nordics can play an important role in the fight against large, private tech companies. 

“As a region, we have demonstrated an ability to reap the benefits of a more digital world while preserving our democratic values. The Nordics should have a strong voice in addressing and adjusting the direction of the EU, and I am sure that we will be able to do that if we continue this dialogue.”

An important role for the Nordic public sector 

Finnish MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri also believes the Nordic region should and will play an important role in the digitalisation of Europe, especially within the public sector. Since 2019, she has been on a working group preparing the EU Parliament’s “Digital Europe Programme”. 

“We already have a very solid public sector, we are motivated and have the competencies to digitalise our public services,” she told the Nordic Labour Journal. 

Miapetra Kumpula-Natri

Miapetra Kumpula-Natri .Photo:

“We also have the resources to educate people at work through life-long learning. And not least, in the Nordic we have a large degree of trust in institutions and civil servants,” said Kumpula-Natri, who believes this too will help in the transformation to digital solutions.  

Preventing digital inequalities from growing

The webinar participants agreed that digitalisation represents enormous opportunities for the Nordic region and Europe, but several pointed out that more digitalisation has already led to growing inequalities.  

“The education system is a good example of this, and we have seen this during lockdown when children and young people have been homeschooled,” pointed out Bertel Haarder, President for the Nordic Council in 2021. Haarder has also been Denmark’s education minister several times and has spent 22 years in various ministerial roles. 

 Photo: Björn Lindahl

Bertel Haarder. Photo: Björn Lindahl

“All the privileged children have really learned a lot during lockdown. But those who have been left behind have probably not. We also have a digital gap between students and teachers, were teachers don’t have the same competencies as students,” said Haarder. 

Because the Nordic countries have so many things in common, it is very important to share our experiences from using digital tools during the pandemic, Haarder argued.

What happened when we closed the schools?

He was supported by Marianne Synnes Emblesvåg, an MP for Norway’s Conservative party and a member of the Nordic Council’s Committee for Knowledge and Culture in the Nordic Region.

“The pandemic has thrown us into the digital world. A survey among principals in Sweden showed that remote learning had worked well for many, but that some students struggled – especially those with special needs or those facing challenging home environments. Also, not everyone has the Internet.”

Photo: Johannes Jansson/

Marianne Synnes Emblesvåg. Photo: Johannes Jansson/

The Committee for Knowledge and Culture has now asked Nordic ministers to analyse the consequences of closing schools during the pandemic.

“Through collaboration and from learning from each other, the Nordics can take a lead in digital education. But the transformation must be done wisely,” concluded Synnes Emblesvåg.


Online meetings in many formats

A webinar on digitalisation hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers heard how the pandemic has thrown us into the digital world. Above, preparations are made for an international online meeting at the Altitude Meetings company in Malmö.


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