The Nordic Council, Global Pioneer

By Hinrichsen, Don | Scandinavian Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

The Nordic Council, Global Pioneer


Hinrichsen, Don, Scandinavian Review


COOPERATION HAS BEEN THE HALLMARK OF THE NORDIC region since the end of the Second World War. In 1952, the Nordic Council was founded as an inter-parliamentary forum, followed in 1971 by the formation of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1971, which functions as a formal inter-governmental body. The secretariats for both institutions are housed in an impressive building in Copenhagen, directly across a canal from the Danish Parliament.

The collaborative approach to inter-state governance has evolved over time. Long before the notion of a European Union was seriously considered, the Nordic countries had instituted a passport union, a common labor market and coordinated approaches to providing social security.

Despite common linguistic, social, cultural and economic interests, the region is vast and diverse, with a collective population of 26 million people (see table), including the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aland (the island group in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland). Collectively, this region is the tenth largest economy in the world.

Underscoring this unique cooperative system is the fact that the Nordic region has been at peace for over 200 years. There has not been an interregional war during this entire period; the longest unbroken record of peace and stability on the planet.

The Council consists of 87 parliamentarians from all the Nordic countries and devolved parliaments: Two each from the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aland; 7 from Iceland; 16 from Denmark; 18 from Finland; and 20 each from Norway and Sweden. In total, the Council's annual budget is about 33 million Danish Kroner ($4.8 million) while the Council of Ministers operates with just over 955 million Danish kroner ($140.4 million).

"What this means," points out Michael Funch, Senior Adviser for Communications at the Council, "is that our cooperation across wide public and private sector areas costs no more than about 40 Danish kroner per person ($5.80). As international collaboration goes, this is a very modest price tag."

THE COUNCIL'S CORE WORK IS CARRIED OUT FOR THE MOST part by five standing committees: culture and education, citizens and consumers, environment and natural resources, business, and welfare. The Council of Ministers has 10 ministerial councils focusing on the following specific issues-education and research; culture; business; energy and regional policy; environment; health and social affairs; fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture, food and forestry; working life; gender equality; finance; and legislative affairs. There is an 11th council comprised of the Nordic Ministers of Cooperation which oversees general, regional and international initiatives under the umbrella of Nordic cooperation, including relations with neighboring states such as Russia and the Baltic countries and the Arctic region, as well as sustainable development, and issues related to children and young people. These councils meet regularly two to three times a year.

Only about a quarter of recommendations for action actually get implemented, since decisions by the Council of Ministers must be taken on the basis of consensus. Issue discussion papers and background briefings on key issues-some 150 publications a year-are prepared by the Council of Ministers and the various committees consisting of senior officials and civil servants from the member countries.

Currendy, the Nordic Council of Ministers is attempting to transform itself from an institution that organizes conferences, meetings and seminars and produces reports, to one that is more of a forward-looking think tank, able to more effectively influence the Nordic area's collective agenda.

In all, Nordic cooperation funds 15 institutions and 20 other bodies spread throughout the entire region. Just over one-third of the Council of Ministers budget goes to support various Nordic institutions. These include, for instance, the research institution called NordForsk in Oslo, the Nordic Culture Point and the Nordic Investment Bank in Helsinki and the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues in Stockholm. …

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