Recently, I chanced upon an article by Tone Bjørndal in the journal Energi og Klima (Energy and Climate) with the title “The Invisible Giant”. The giant in question is Nordic co-operation. Her point was that despite the wide scope of Nordic co-operation, few people know what it actually entails. “How can co-operation at such a high political level go unnoticed by so many people, and what are the consequences of that?” she wondered.
In order to shed light on the extent of the co-operation, Bjørndal described the most recent meeting of Nordic environment and climate ministers. The agenda included Nordic participation at the climate summit COP24 in Katowice in December this year. Sweden suggested drafting a Nordic response to Fiji’s statement on the Talanoa Dialogue from COP23 in Bonn. Finland proposed that the Nordic prime ministers and climate and environment ministers should be invited to a Nordic follow-up meeting after COP24.
The climate was not the only item on the agenda. The ministers also discussed sustainable cities, the marine environment and a strategic analysis of how to work more closely together on sustainability.
As the article describes, regional co-operation on the environment and climate is important, not only for the governments’ individual efforts to create sustainable development at national level, but also for how they work together at international level. The same also applies to many of the other sectors in which the Nordic governments work together on important issues and achieve significant results.
When I started work at the Nordic Council of Ministers in spring 2013, The Economist had just published a cover story on the Nordic model, titled: “The Next Super Model?” Nordic solutions were in demand all over the world, in all sorts of fields, and the people of the Region were calling for closer co-operation. However, in order to live up to expectations, the tools for Nordic co-operation needed to be sharpened – and the level of political ambition had to be raised. Hence the reform remit I had from the Nordic governments when I took up the post. The point of the reforms was to boost the political content of the co-operation, both between the Nordic countries and at international level.
The efforts made in this area have revitalised the Council of Ministers. It now focuses on issues that are relevant to Nordic governments, people and businesses, such as integrating refugees and immigrants, closer EU co-operation and electronic ID, which will facilitate freedom of movement for companies and individuals in the Nordic Region. Other initiatives improve working life, tackle climate change in the Region and establish Nordic Innovation houses around the world. Common to all of these initiatives is that they are multi-sectoral – they seek to address problems that traditional Nordic co-operation was less well equipped to tackle.
The process has led to significant advances – not only in the Region, but also internationally. We are now better placed than ever to address more and more complex challenges. As a result of the reforms, the Nordic governments now set their sights higher. They expect significant results but will need to work even more closely together at Nordic level to achieve them.
I agree with Tone Bjørndal’s assertion in her article that we need to “make the giant visible”. It is important to recognise and celebrate the achievements of Nordic co-operation. The recent report “Region of Opportunity” highlights some of the outcomes of the reforms.
But much more could be done. Even sharper tools are needed to make the most of Nordic co-operation’s potential. We must continue to evolve and remain politically topical and relevant all of the time.