Thursday

21st Feb 2019

UK: Northern summit was not anti-European

  • Leaders of the nine countries line up outside the UK prime minister's residence in Downing Street, London (Photo: Downing Street)

Downing Street has said that a special summit of Nordic and Baltic leaders on trade, innovation and quality of life, in London on Thursday (20 January) does not signal lack of confidence in EU structures.

The event had an EU-wary flavour.

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No EU officials were invited. The host country, the UK, is led by the eurosceptic Conservative Party. Out of the nine countries that took part, only Estonia and Finland use the euro. Iceland has started accession talks, but EU officials believe Icelanders will reject membership in a future poll. Norway has rejected membership in two past referendums.

The event comes at a time when several southern European economies - Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain - are battling the threat of sovereign debt default in what could become an existential crisis for the EU's single currency and the EU itself.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron told press that the northern countries aim to create an economic "avant-garde."

"Right across the north of Europe, there stretches an alliance of common interests. We get enterprise. We embrace innovation. We understand the potential of green technologies for economic growth. So at a time when much of Europe is in desperate need of fundamental economic reform, it makes sense for us to come together," he said.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt noted that debate among northern countries "differs a little sometimes from discussions in central and southern Europe."

A Downing Street spokesman told EUobserver: "This summit was not about euroscepticism. It wasn't an ideological event. It wasn't anti-European or pro a northern alliance. It was about practical exchanges on policy, coming up with new ideas ... This summit wasn't about the European Union at all."

In terms of sharing ideas, Denmark is said to have Europe's best welfare system. Estonia does most of its government business, including elections, online. Norway has a law that 40 percent of company board members must be women. Sweden has sailed through the economic crisis to a forecast of four percent growth this year and the UK has a massive offshore wind sector.

In a nod to the avant-garde, the event was held at the Whitechapel modern art gallery in east-end London in an unusual format.

The 100-or-so delegates included business leaders, such as Martin Lorentzon, the Swedish chief of music website Spotify, and cultural notables, such as Latvian 'slow food' chef Martins Ritnis, as well as politicians and officials. There was no traditional summit communique. Instead, attendees held three symposiums on innovation, gender equality and green technology.

"This event is about a new way of working, too," Mr Cameron said. "We would all benefit from a new kind of summit - less formal, less about ticking the boxes of international diplomacy and more about the free exchange of ideas."

Among tangible outcomes, the nine are to start work on an energy "supergrid" to link-up renewable supplies. Swedish energy firm Vattenfall, a summit guest, also said it would open a new office in the UK capital. A follow-up summit is to take place in Sweden next year.

The Downing Street spokesman said there were no security officials at the event, but added that UK defence minister Liam Fox is "very much interested" in joint military projects with Nordic countries.

A bilateral Norway-UK pact signed in the margins of the London event contains a defence clause that says: "We will further develop our defence and security policy co-operation ... and work to address new threats such as cyber security. We will seek to enhance our operational capabilities through training and joint procurement, and collaborate closely on resolving international tensions, for example in Sudan, Burma and the Middle East."

Foreign ministers from the five Nordic countries are to meet in Helsinki in April to discuss prospects for a Nato-type defence pact to address issues arising from melting ice caps in the Arctic region.

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