Nordic states want more say in Europe
By Lisbeth Kirk
“Something about the Nordic environment”, said one woman, when asked why buses in Copenhagen were adorned with two flags this week.
“The red one is easy enough. It's the Danish flag, but the blue flag? Something UN or Nordic, perhaps?," her friend said.
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She was right. The blue flag on the buses belong to the Nordic Council meting in Copenhagen this week.
The redesigned logo is not the only new thing about the old institution.
As other political structures in Europe seem fragile, more attention has turned to the regional body.
"Nordic countries must push more strongly in the European debate," said Danish liberal MP, Eva Kjer Hansen, who tabled a proposal for opening a joint Nordic office in Brussels.
"The Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers together would establish and staff an office in Brussels to give the Nordic cooperation greater political clout and weight," the proposal said.
The first week in November is always the one week of the year when all the Nordic parliaments stop normal lawmaking and each send a delegation of their members to the Nordic Council.
On Tuesday (1 November) the seats in the assembly of the Danish Folketing, were filled with Swedes, Finns and other fellow Nordic parliamentarians.
Older than the EU
The Nordic Council is older than the EU. This year’s session was number 68, but the Nordic Council does not have any sovereign powers. It can only recommend for member states to act.
With all the Nordic prime ministers also sitting in the assembly, it is however a unique body, and not without impact in the world when they act in unity.
For many years it was dreamed that the Nordic countries might even develop into some form of a Nordic Union.
It only came as far as allowing Nordic citizens to travel without passports between Nordic countries, where citizens have had the right to work, study and settle in each other’s countries.
The dream ended when Denmark - as the first Nordic country to do so - broke ranks and joined the EU in 1973, Sweden and Finland followed later, while Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the Aaland Islands stayed out of the European Union. Greenland left the EU following a referendum in 1982.
This year’s Nordic officially session focused on implementation of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and how to implement them in the Nordic region.
“Nordic countries played a central role to 17 SDGs of the UN, but fulfilling of the goals has to happen at home”, reminded Norway’s conservative prime minister Erna Solberg and quoted Elvis Presley in her Nordic Council speech: ”A little less conversation, a little more action please”.
“Our strength lies in being equal. Because of this we are rich and modern”, said the Swedish Social Democrat premier Stefan Loefven.
Gender equality is one of the UN's 17 goals and it is remarkably high in the Nordic area.
Iceland’s parliament had a record high number of 30 female MPs elected just last Saturday, where 47.6 percent of the votes went to female candidates in the general elections.
The vote saw Iceland jump up seven places internationally as regards the representation women in national parliaments, to fourth in the world, after Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba.
Border control and refugees were other topics touched often in the Nordic Council’s general debate.
“Passport-union has been a crown jewel in Nordic cooperation, but it is now almost out of function. This is a European reality today”, said Pia Kjærsgaard from the Danish People’s party, who is chairman of the Danish parliament.
“It feels like being sent back to square one, when you have to show your passport at the border with Sweden,” she said, referring to recently imposed checks.
Swedish conservative MP Hans Wallmark, suggested that the Danish-German border should be controlled on behalf of the entire Nordic area, replacing the temporary border control introduced between Denmark and Sweden 4 January 2016 in response to the refugee crisis.
The decision has had severe implications for the around 30,000 people who daily crosses the Oresund Bridge by train.
The Swedish government announced on Wednesday it will continue the controls for another three months.
“Nordic joint border controls would not be a problem for us”, said Juho Eerola, in response to the idea of joint Nordic border controls instead of EU controls. He represents the Finns Party, previously known as the True Finns, a populist and nationalist-oriented Finnish political faction.
”We already look after the Finnish border towards Russia on behalf of us all”, he said.
Relations with Russia was another hot topic at the Nordic Council, but all pressures on Sweden and Finland to join Nato were firmly rejected.
“For the time being there are no changes needed in our relations [with Nato]. But if the situation changes, we are prepared to discuss it again quickly,” said Finland’s liberal prime minister Juha Sipilae.
The Nordic Council's conservative group proposed governments in the region to conduct a critical analysis of environmental risks from Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.
During the building phase, the consortium wants access to strategically important Swedish ports such as Slite and Karlshamn, which would also increase the risk of spying and infiltration, the group said. It recommended Sweden's government to co-ordinate positions.
“We are looking forward to discussing in the EU and if the proposal is in line with the energy union,” Finnish premier Sipilae said. He added, that for Finland the concerns with the Nord Stream 2 project are mainly linked to environmental risks for the sea.
Next year the Nordic Council meets in Helsinki, when Finland chairs the Nordic council, while Norway chairs the Nordic council of ministers in 2017.