Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Focus

Nordic states divided on Trump

  • Norway's EU minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, and Sweden's foreign minister, Margot Wallstroem, debated with MPs from the Nordic Council. (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)

Nordic countries are looking for ways to position themselves in a world where Donald Trump's election has cast a long shadow over some of their most cherished values and complicated relations with the US.

"There are still question marks over what the Trump administration really stands for. But the US remains a central international actor that the Nordic countries need to have a relation to," said the Swedish minister of foreign affairs, Margot Wallstroem, on Tuesday (4 April).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

She was addressing the Nordic Council, an inter-parliamentary forum for MPs from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Aland Islands, which gathered for a session in Stockholm.

Barack Obama was fond of the region and last year hosted a state dinner for Nordic prime ministers in an bid to bring the militarily non-aligned Sweden and Finland closer to their Nato-member neighbours.

Trump, on the other hand, has questioned Nato, scrapped free trade agreements and climate change commitments, and taken to a new level US scepticism on global governance structures, such as the UN. For all of these concepts, the Nordic countries have seen themselves as front-line advocates.

The current US president has also voiced his support for Brexit, and there are fears that his attitude could embolden populist forces in the EU.

Others doubt his commitment to US sanctions on Russia, whose annexation of Crimea and military presence in Eastern Ukraine was described by Wallstroem as the greatest threat against peace in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The Swedish foreign minister said the Nordic countries could deal better with Trump's rule if they stood together, noting that they were often seen as an entity rather than as individual countries.

But a proposal for a common statement on relations with the USA, which initially featured on the agenda, was scrapped.

Transatlantic splits

The debate between MPs was short on solutions and mirrored the splits between Nordic countries on transatlantic relations.

Sweden, the only Nordic country with a left-wing government, saw relations with the US hit rock bottom earlier this year, when the US president painted a dark picture of Sweden as a country slipping into refugee chaos, in a wider attempt to justify his travel ban on certain Muslims.

Finland, which is currently in the process of buying US military planes, has taken less flak.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland, which are all Nato members, meanwhile consider the US as their main defence ally.

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen visited the White House last week to seek reassurances on Nato, and appeared to enjoy a good personal relationship with the US president. Trump called him a "wonderful man doing a wonderful job".

Norway's EU minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said on Tuesday that Nato is an alliance of many countries, not just the US. The US last year deployed 300 marines in the north of the country to beef up its anti-Russia operations.

Iceland has no military of its own at all, and is fully dependent on Nato troops.

Finland and Sweden upgraded their Nato links last year by signing a host nation agreement to allow the alliance to undertake military exercises in their territories. But Trump's election has given arguments to Nato opponents.

Problems with Nato

"To join Nato would be like boarding the bus after noticing that the driver is drunk," said Jonas Sjostedt, the leader of Sweden's left-wing party and a Nordic Council member.

"Your party is like a bus without a wheel, which is stuck in a left-wing turn," quipped centre-right MP Hans Wallmark, and said that he feared the Baltic region becoming hostage to a deal between Trump and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

That in turn angered Juho Eerola, a vice president of the Nordic Council and MP for the populist Finns party.

“I am surprised by some of the statements against Trump. All my life, I was told the greatest threat to world peace is that the Russian and US presidents will disagree. And now it seems to be a threat that they do agree," Eerola said.

The Finn suggested to improve relations by reaching out to US congressmen, a proposal also raised by Wallstroem.

"We have to use all channels: congressmen, federal states, civil society and academia. The US is more than its president," she said.

Discussions should be focused on a more practical level, she added.

Successful values

"For example, we should explain how gender equality and the fight against climate change can help to make America a success. It's not enough to voice these values - we have to show that they deliver, and that the US risks to lag behind."

She said the Nordic countries must also stand against US demands for other countries to pay for re-construction of countries bombed by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, as they themselves are cutting the US aid budget.

"The US, via Nato, demand that countries dedicate 2 percent on their budgets on military means. But all threats cannot be defeated by weapons. There is need for sophisticated means, such as peace interventions, aid interventions, development interventions," Wallstroem said.

Sweden is ruled by a feminist socialist-green government, which has worked hard to become a temporary member of the UN security council.

But Wallstroem turned down a proposal by Icelandic MP Steingrimur J. Sigfusson that she should embody Nordic opposition and become "the next Olof Palme", in a reference to Sweden's former prime minister, who, in the 1970s, likened the US to "Satan's murderers" over the war in Vietnam.

"There was only one Olof Palme," Wallstroem said.

Obama brings together Nordic leaders

Sweden and Finland are moving one step closer to Nato-alligned Nordic neighbours at the initiative of US president Obama.

Opinion

It is high time to exclude Fidesz from the EPP

"We have made our choice: we choose democracy and rule of law," write the leaders of the National Coalition Party in Finland and the Moderate Party in Sweden.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us