Over the course of many years, the Nordic countries have established a tradition of summer public meetings where people across political affiliations and with different views come together for a few days to take part in discussions and debates. These take place in Arendal, Bornholm in Denmark, in Almedalen, Gotland in Sweden, in Reykjavik in Iceland, and at SuomiAreena, Pori in Finland.
At these meetings, notable for their diverse programmes and spirit of tolerance, we see a battle of minds in open debates. Ministers, politicians, lobbyists, and opinion makers meet and discuss social issues not only with each other but also with interested citizens in a more informal and engaging setting than the day-to-day political debates. I too have been inspired by taking part in several of these meetings, and I’m looking forward to going to Bornholm in mid-June.
Combined with that Nordic buzzword “hygge”, the public meetings offer a unique sense of community, which illustrates some of the values that are fundamental in Nordic societies: democracy, freedom of speech, equality, mutual respect, and trust.
In the Nordic Region, we’ve spent years taking these values for granted – perhaps so much so that we sometimes forget how important they are to our society. These values underlie our free and equal welfare societies and have created the conditions for the progress and development we have enjoyed over the last century.
But if we lift our gaze and look out into the world, we can see that these values are not common to all. What’s more, they’re under pressure. Democracy and freedom of speech are challenged by hate-filled expressions, fake news, and “alternative facts”. The equality agenda, which over the past century has seen huge and watershed advances, is now experiencing a real step backwards. And values such as trust and transparency – which are worth more than gold in Nordic societies – are at risk of being replaced by mistrust and fear.
The Nordic Council of Ministers was, in many respects, borne out of the region’s shared values. The ministers for Nordic co-operation worded it as follows in their vision statement for Nordic co-operation:
The Nordic countries have a long tradition of trust-based co-operation stemming from our common historical, cultural, and geographical heritage. Our national societies are also based on the same fundamental values such as democracy, human rights, and sustainability. Over the years, these shared positions of strength have been used to establish synergies and to share experiences in a way that facilitates effective responses to a wide range of issues and provides benefits for the people of all of the Nordic countries.
At the Nordic Council of Ministers, we work each and every day with our shared values which permeate the many joint Nordic co-operation initiatives in areas ranging from health and culture to the environment and sustainable development.
But our efforts in respect of these values are not limited to the Nordic Region. We work to share our experiences with the rest of the world as well.
When the Nordic ministers for gender equality took part in the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York, people listened when they spoke about Nordic solutions to gender equality issues such as maternity leave and childcare.
When the Nordic Council of Ministers supported the development of independent Russian-language media in the Baltic countries in order to give the large minority in the region that speaks only Russian the opportunity to get factual, impartial news, this was welcomed by the Baltic governments and our European partners.
We’ve not found all the answers – and we still have a long way to go in the Nordic Region – but interest in our region and our solutions has never been greater. The Nordic prime ministers have therefore decided to share some of the best Nordic solutions to a number of global societal challenges with other parts of the world through the Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges initiative. By sharing effective Nordic solutions to challenges relating to the environment, climate, welfare, food production, and equality, we will help to ensure that the world reaches the targets set by world leaders when they adopted the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015.
At the same time, the Nordic Council of Ministers will continue to help maintain free and open debate. In conjunction with the celebration of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day, we have recently published the book Den svåra yttrandefriheten – 15 nordiska röster, in which Nordic writers, journalists, and academics discuss some of the challenges faced by Nordic freedom of expression, with a focus on equality, diversity, and children and young people. In addition, to demonstrate the important role of trust in Nordic society, we will shortly be publishing the report Tillit – det nordiska guldet, which discusses the challenges faced by trust and what Nordic society would lose if mistrust should start to take over.
Our shared Nordic values provide a strong foundation for our societies. The Nordic Council of Ministers will be present at all the Nordic public meetings over the summer, where we will contribute to the debate by discussing how we can maintain and develop these values.