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November, 2016

Are Nordic values naive or sustainable?

BLOG POST – 29/11/2016

It’s that time of year. The nights have drawn in, temperatures have plummeted, and we turn to one of the things we're good at in the Nordic countries – hygge – the uniquely Nordic mixture of cosiness and togetherness now famous throughout the world. We relax in our living rooms and around dining tables, enjoying hot drinks and food, burning candles and creating the atmosphere of hygge that has so captured the imagination of the international media and public. One big Nordic company even uses the concept in its advertising. We embrace the short dark days of winter as a time for hygge.

This year, I think that a lot of the conversations around Nordic dining tables will be all about what is happening in the world. Political events – near and far – are concentrating minds on the question of what kind of world we want now and for our children and grandchildren in the future. Where are we heading as citizens of this planet? What do global trends mean for us in the Nordic Region?

One of the things that makes Nordic co-operation work – on top of our shared history and geographical proximity – is that we share a range of fundamental values. We cherish democracy, in open societies characterised by faith in each other as well as in our political leaders. Our welfare systems, with equal access to health, education and social security make us among the most equal societies in the world, and the focus is on ensuring that “... few have too much and fewer too little”, as Grundtvig put it. We strive for sustainability and manage our natural resources in a manner that pays heed to future generations. We respect differences and acknowledge that all human beings are equal, as reflected in our endeavours to bring about real gender equality.

In light of the latest developments in neighbouring countries and the rest of our world, it seems relevant to reconsider whether these values – trust, openness, gender equality, economic equality and sustainability – are sustainable, or whether the time has come to replace them with a harder approach.

Can the Nordic Region continue to base policy on values sometimes deemed a little naive?

For me, the answer is a resounding YES! It is our values that put us at the top of international rankings. We are among the best countries in which to do business[1], the most competitive[2], most innovative[3] and even the happiest[4] precisely because our values generate socio-economic value.

It turns out that having faith in each other – and in our political systems – is effective as it cuts out the need for all sorts of control mechanisms. Trust binds us together socially and creates favourable conditions for productivity and growth. Open, trusting societies – with very little corruption – are attractive investment markets for global companies.

Our labour-market models and social safety nets also serve as a sound basis for creativity and innovation. It’s possible to take chances – change jobs or start a new business – without it being an all-or-nothing risk. Socio-economic equality may well be under pressure these days but is still a characteristic of the Nordic countries. It helps create safe and secure societies, and this is reflected in hard statistics, e.g. for better health and longer life expectancy.   

The Nordic focus on sustainability also has huge business potential for our companies, which are making the most of the opportunities to market green solutions. It is no coincidence that six of the world's 20 most sustainable companies are Nordic.[5] 

As Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has said several times: We will lead the fight for sustainability and the fight against poverty because it is morally right and makes good economic sense.

In a seemingly more uncertain world, I think that we should remain true to our Nordic values. Promoting trust, openness, gender equality, socio-economic equality and sustainability will prolong the positive developments from which we have benefited for so many years. I also think that we should take the lead in international forums to help find positive solutions for the future, both in our neighbouring countries and globally, because – as Mahatma Gandhi put it – “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

I think these are some of the issues people will focus on as we gather around our dining tables in this dark time of year for some traditional Nordic hygge.

[1] World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index 2016

[2] World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index 2015-16

[3] Global Innovation Index 2016

[4] World Happiness Report 2016

[5] Global 100 Index 2016

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