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30th Nov 2020

Nordic-German climate action signals broader alliance

  • Gender balance was for long an important issue on the Nordic political agenda (Photo: Nordic Council of Ministers)

Angela Merkel fulfilled an old dream to visit Iceland this week, amid plans to strengthen Germany's relations with Europe's most northern countries.

The German chancellor flew into Reykjavik on Monday (19 August), as Nordic prime ministers met for their Nordic Council summer summit.

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  • German Chancellor Merkel and Iceland's prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir on a symbolic walk in the growing rift between the North American and European techtonic plates at Thingvellir, Iceland (Photo: Nordic Council of Ministers)

Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Aaland are all members of the EU, while Iceland, Norway and Greenland are not. Their prime ministers meet on a regular basis, but it is the first time Merkel has come.

Regardless of EU membership status, the Nordic leaders agreed to a new joint vision on making the region the most sustainable and integrated one in the world by 2030.

The idea is to align all future policies with an overall climate target.

"We know that it's difficult to prioritise, but we must accept our responsibility. We have to show people, and not least the younger generations, that we mean what we say, and that we practice what we preach," Iceland's green prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, who chaired the meeting, said.

"It will make it so much easier to focus political work when we have an overall vision to guide us," one diplomatic source, who attended the talks, told EUobserver.

Germany did not sign up to the new 'Nordic 2030' vision, but aims to become climate-neutral 20 years later, by 2050.

Merkel also agreed to establish a new platform together with the Nordics to co-ordinate climate policies.

"We plan to have a platform for the Nordic countries and Germany in the future, where we can cooperate more closely in particular to find solutions for climate challenge and democracy," Jakobsdottir said.

Denmark's new social democrat prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, told EUobserver that the platform would already be used to co-ordinate positions ahead of the UN climate action summit in New York on 21 to 23 September.

Finland's Antti Rinne is another new Nordic social democrat prime minister.

He is currently also the head of the EU's rotating presidency and said that even the EU budget could be used as a tool to support climate goals.

"There are Nordic countries that are in the European Union and with Germany we have a common understanding that it is important to use the [EU's] multi-annual financial framework to create rule of law and also to use it when it comes to halt climate change", he said.

A private-public partnership with a group of Nordic company CEOs was also signed in Reykjavik.

The companies, which included wind turbine maker Vestas, phone firm Nokia, and the SAS airline, pledged to align their business models with "the most important ethical, social, and environmental issues of our time".

Trump cancels trip

Merkel's visit took place at a time when the Arctic and northern European regions are attracting more than usual international attention.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is jetting in to Helsinki on Wednesday to meet the Finnish president.

American president Donald Trump recently expressed a wish to buy Greenland in a challenge to potential Chinese investors, who had hoped to get a foothold on the island.

He wanted to talk about it while he visited Denmark on 2 and 3 September, while his vice-president, Mike Pence, is to visit Iceland at the same time.

But Trump abruptly cancelled his trip with a tweet on Tuesday evening.

"Based on prime minister Mette Frederiksen's comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time," he said.

While in Iceland, Merkel took the opportunity to visit Thingvellir, Iceland's 1,000-year old open air parliament, which is built on a fissure that divides the North American tectonic plate from the Eurasian one.

The plates move apart by approximately 2.5 centimetres a year and have being doing so for millions of years.

Tectonic cracks

And Merkel referenced the geological feature when commenting on transatlantic relations, which were also discussed in Iceland.

"We are here at the tectonic junction of the European part and the American part [of the world]," she said.

"So we see how connected this world is, even if parts of mountains have moved a little bit apart from each other in the last 9,000 years," she added.

With Brexit on the horizon, Denmark's Frederiksen said cracks were also appearing in the European order.

"Angela Merkel's presence at this meeting is a sign of Europe breaking up a bit and that Germany looks a bit more to the north, that we have been used to," she said.

Nordic countries and the UK used to be close allies inside the EU, and with Britain leaving, Germany could step into its shoes, she indicated.

"No matter what happens about Brexit, Britain would still be a close partner for the Nordic countries, but of course if we are looking into a hard Brexit, then co-operation with Germany will only be more important," Frederiksen told EUobserver.

"The most important thing to say today is, that Nordic countries are going to stick together. But we are also all in favour of a stronger co-operation between the Nordic part of Europe, Scandinavia, and Germany. We share the same values and the same ideas on the world that we want to pass on to our children," she said.

"When Angela Merkel decided to come here today, it is also a clear signal from Germany that they may be looking a bit more to the northern part. And that is good," she added.

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