New Secretary General envisages closer post-pandemic relations

01.02.21 | News
Nordiska rådets direktör Kristina Háfoss

Kristina Háfoss

Charlotte de la Fuente

Kristina Háfoss, the new Secretary General of the Nordic Council, wants to make the tangible benefits of co-operation more visible, both in schools and across the Region in general.

Minister, member of parliament, insurance executive, economist for a bank, elite sportswoman – Kristina Háfoss (45) from the Faroe Islands has packed a lot into her life, and brings a strong belief in working even more closely together to her new role as Secretary General of the Nordic Council.

Kristina Háfoss began her new job at the Nordic Council Secretariat in Copenhagen on 1 February. These days, however, the first day at work in any new job is a bit different. The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, so instead of checking into Nordic House at Ved Stranden 18 in Copenhagen, the new Secretary General is working from home.

As the highest-ranking official in the Nordic Council, Háfoss will help steer official Nordic co-operation out of the current global crisis. The pandemic may have put great strains on working relations between the countries, but the new Ssecretary General sees potential rather than problems. She thinks that the pandemic may actually enhance the Nordic partnership.

“You can always spend time looking at what has gone wrong. We should, of course, learn from the pandemic, but I want to look ahead so that we emerge from this crisis working even more closely together. Having lived through an unprecedented crisis, we can use what we have learned as a catalyst for seeking Nordic solutions in the future – in contingency planning for emergencies, for example,” she says.

Remove barriers to cross-border mobility

As a strong advocate of freedom of movement, Háfoss would like to see an end to all obstacles to mobility in the Nordic Region.

“Our work must focus on those who want to work, study and run companies across national borders. They should feel that Nordic co-operation facilitates moving from one country to another, or living in one and working in another. We have come a long way, but we have not yet crossed the finishing line.

According to the new Secretary General, one important aspect of this work is digitalisation – an issue she worked on at Nordic level when she was the Faroese minister responsible for digitalisation, the roll-out of electronic ID and the digital infrastructure. She sees e-ID as an example of the potential to use digitalisation to improve free movement.

“When we get the Nordic e-ID systems to ‘talk’ to each other, it will allow people to use their national e-ID in the other countries. That would be a big step toward freedom of movement, and we’re not that far away from achieving it,” she says.

More of all things Nordic in schools

Háfoss also wants to raise awareness of Nordic co-operation among children and young people, with more teaching about our neighbouring countries, our history, languages and co-operation in schools, as well as greater focus on showing that working together is not just a political project but is also important for ordinary people

The Secretary General also wants to highlight the importance of the Region as a global pioneer on issues such as climate change, the Arctic, democracy and the fight against injustice and inequality.

Economist and lawyer

The new Secretary General’s successful career began when her interest in society and politics was sparked by the major economic crash that hit the Faroe Islands in 1992. In the wake of that event, she studied economics at the University of Copenhagen. To better understand society, she also studied law, and finished two degrees in the time it normally takes to complete one.

At 26, she became the youngest ever woman elected to the Faroese Parliament. Kristina has been a minister twice, worked for a bank and as a head of department in the biggest insurance company in the Faroe Islands.

She has also been an elite athlete. She swam for the national team, played volleyball for the national youth team and was a national running champion. Háfoss attended music school as a child and young person and plays the piano.

These days, when not working, her family – husband and four children – are her top priority.

“I also like to run or walk in the great outdoors. And if there’s time, I like to read,” she says.

A term as Secretary General of the Nordic Council lasts a maximum of eight years. What will the Nordic Region look like in eight years?

“I hope and wish that we will enjoy closer co-operation than we do now. All of the current obstacles to cross-border freedom of movement will be gone. I also envisage our e-ID being used in all of the Nordic countries, that the Region will have a stronger foreign-policy profile and that we have achieved our vision of making this the most integrated region in the world.”

Kristina Háfoss succeeds Britt Bohlin, who was the Secretary General of the Nordic Council for the last seven years (2014-2021).

Fact box:

Name: Kristina Háfoss

Date of birth: 26 June 1975

Residence: Copenhagen and Tórshavn

Family: Husband and four children.

Education: MSc in Politics and Master of Laws from the University of Copenhagen and CBA (Certificate in Business Administration).

Party: Tjóðveldi (Republic), a left-wing party committed to independence for the Faroe Islands.

Political career: Member of the Faroese parliament 2002–2004, 2011–2015 and 2019–2021, Minister of Culture, Education and Research 2008 and Minister of Finance 2015–2019. Member of the West Nordic Council 2019–2021.

Other work experience: Economist at Landsbanka Føroya 2004–2005, economist & project manager at Føroya Banka 2006, head of department at Tryggingarfelagið Føroyar, Betri pensjon and TF Holding 2007–2011 and advisor and compliance officer 2011–2015. Kristina Háfoss has also been a member of the boards of directors of various companies in the Faroe Islands and chair of the Faroese Economist and Lawyers Union.