Closer Nordic partnership needed within the EU
Sweden is steering the good ship Europe this autumn during its Presidency of the EU and, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Iceland recently submitted an application to join the Union.
These two factors combine to put the EU high on the Nordic agenda – so high that it is the theme of the annual Session of the Nordic Council – the regional parliament of the five Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
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We think the time is ripe for the Nordic countries to work more closely together on EU issues.
With the establishment of the Nordic Council in 1952 the small Nordic countries created a regional co-operation organisation of their own in the midst of the Cold War period. Today Denmark, Finland and Sweden are members of the EU, and Iceland and Norway apply a considerable part of the EU legislation through the EEA-Agreement and other co-operation agreements.
Developments in the EU have affected the work of the Nordic Council. A great number of the questions the Council addresses today – e.g. on marine policy, fisheries and energy issues – have an EU dimension.
The paradox of the current situation is that the Nordic Council's EU-related recommendations have no connection to the ongoing work being done in parallel on EU legislation by the Nordic parliaments. The Council is not considered a stakeholder in Nordic EU policy. Does such a thing as a Nordic EU policy actually exist? According to the latest reports, Nordic co-operation is underdeveloped in both the planning and implementation phases of EU legislation. Iceland and Norway as non-EU-members are in the weakest position.
The current status of Nordic EU-co-operation gives rise to concern. At worst, it leads to unnecessary bureaucratic barriers between the Nordic countries and detracts from citizens' and businesses' freedom of movement – a freedom that is greatly valued by those involved in Nordic co-operation.
This is why we see a great potential in the Nordic countries working more closely together on EU legislation. This applies to all phases of the process, from draft bill to implementation. With regard to the Nordic parliaments, more widespread exchanges of information and more direct, regular and frequent contact between parliamentarians, not forgetting the Nordic MEPs, is needed.
In the initial phase the Nordic Council can act as an engine for closer Nordic parliamentary co-operation on EU. In future, it can play a more specific role in parliamentary co-ordination of EU issues. For this to be possible, the Nordic Council requires a new mandate, one in which its role on EU issues is clearly defined, and in which procedures are revamped to facilitate proactive work on the EU.
If the Council remains an outsider in relation to the Nordic parliaments' EU work, then one of the most vital areas of co-operation for the Nordic countries, the EU, will not be within the scope of official Nordic inter-parliamentary co-operation. Is this appropriate? Can a regional political organisation even exist in this day and age without being involved in European policy? In our opinion, the answer is no.
In 2012, the document that forms the basis for Nordic co-operation, the Helsinki Agreement, will turn 50. We call upon the Nordic governments to mark this anniversary with appropriate festivities that focus on updating the official Nordic co-operation to the EU-era. What is and will be Nordic co-operation's role in the EU/Europe? How will we co-ordinate the Nordic parliaments' EU work? What direction will the Region's inter-parliamentary body, the Nordic Council, take in the future?
The EU ship will sail on, and will most likely take on board more European passengers along the way. The Nordic countries must make sure that they continue to steer a common course in the future.
The authors are all MPs and members of the Centre Group in the Nordic Council_ Bente Dahl (Denmark), Marion Pedersen (Denmark), Janne Seurujärvi (Finland), Stefan Tornberg (Sweden), Siv Friðleifsdóttir (Iceland)