Wed Nov 7th, 2007 at 05:33:38 AM EST
The annual autumn Session of the Nordic Council was held between October 30th and November 1st 2007 in Oslo, Norway. Two issues in particular were on the top of the agenda for this year's Session: the climate crisis and whether to accept the Faroes as a full member of the Nordic Council.
The Nordic countries of course have a long history of co-operation and friendship (although one might think otherwise whenever there's an ice hockey match between Sweden and Finland). The Nordic Council, consisting of all the Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland) and the three Nordic autonomies (Greenland, The Faroes and Åland), was formed in 1952. Its most notable achievements include the common Nordic labour market and the Nordic passport union, which encompasses most of the Nordic countries and associated territories (with some exceptions). There have even been attempts, albeit ill-fated ones, at creating a Nordic military union and a Nordic economic area.
The countries have taken slightly different paths (Norway, Denmark and Iceland are NATO members while Finland and Sweden are not; Sweden, Denmark and Finland are EU members while Norway, Iceland, the Faroes and Greenland are not; Finland is the sole member of the Eurozone). In recent years, co-operation with neighbouring states has been increasingly emphasised, with the council maintaining regional offices in all of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) as well as in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
The Nordic Council consists of 87 members, elected from the members of the national parliaments of the Nordic Countries and the regional parliaments of the autonomies. The annual Session is usually attended by assorted governmental ministers, who participates in debates and meetings, though co-operation the governmental level also takes place through the Nordic Council of Ministers.
A quick run-down of some of the topics discussed:
President of the Council
Former Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja was elected president of the Council for a one-year term (the Nordic countries take turns holding the presidency). He'll replace former Norwegian health minister Dagfinn Høybråten. In an interview with Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet, Tuomioja, who apparently wasn't too keen on the getting the job, characterised the role of the president as largely that of a "master of ceremonies" (reg. required to access article).
The Faroes' Membership of the NC
The three Nordic autonomies are associate members of the Nordic Council (as opposed to the Nordic countries, who are full members). The Faroese, apparently keen on asserting itself as an entity separate from Denmark, had applied to be accepted as a full member (and, by implication, had it been accepted, Greenland and Åland would likely also have become full members). The application was ultimately voted down, but a compromise proposal granting the autonomies more influence in committee work was approved; it was implied that the Faroes had been granted as much influence as possible within the current framework. Opposition to the Faroes' proposal was primarily founded on the idea that, if the Faroes, Greenland and Åland became full members, Denmark would be granted an inordinate amount of influence in the proceedings (Greenland and the Faroes being Danish autonomous regions) and that the same would hold true for Finland to a lesser extent (Åland being a Finnish autonomous region).
The Climate Crisis
The most important issue this session was probably global warming, particularly its effect on the Arctic and the Baltic Sea.
In preparations for the International Climate Summit to be held in Copenhagen in 2009, work was also done on joint Nordic initiatives to combat global warming.
The introduction of a Nordic ethical trade label was one of the proposals bandied about, but it was ultimately shot down. Apparently it was difficult to agree on what would be considered ethical. The label might have been akin to the Nordic Swan ecolabel. Proposals for combating the international sex trade were also introduced.
Foreign Policy ("Russia, Russia, Russia")
Foreign and security policy was debated extensively at the Session, perhaps more so than in previous sessions. An Icelandic delegate suggested Iceland, Norway and Denmark leave NATO in favour of closer Nordic co-operation, a suggestion that probably won't be getting much traction.
Not unsurprisingly, given its geographical proximity, Russia became subject of much debate, with one Norwegian delegate mentioning Finnish defense minister Jyri Häkämies' controversial "Russia, Russia, Russia" speech earlier this year (see also my diary "Finlandisation 2.0: Plus ça change...").
Russia, who has observer status in the council, has been clamouring for increased influence in the proceedings. Erkki Tuomioja, in the same Hufvudstadsbladet interview as above, suggested scheduling a special meeting with Russian parliamentarians for next year's session.
With regards to the Nordic countries' relationship to the European Union, a Danish MEP suggested setting up a joint embassy for the Nordic EU countries in Brussels, in order to facilitate better co-ordination and co-operation on EU matters.
The full agenda is available at the NC's Session 2007 website.
Press coverage was not particularly ubiquitous, or all that favourable. The Nordic co-operation seems to be taken for granted.
Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet noted that the Nordic co-operation has faltered somewhat in recent years, with Finland fighting all by its lonely self against the rest of the EU to keep its 141 subsidies. Norwegian daily Morgenbladet filed a critical report of the session. With co-operation also occurring within the EU and NATO, some have even gone as far as suggesting that the Nordic co-operation has been rendered obsolete.
As is usually the case with these sort of sessions, ultimately there was a whole lot of talking. Followed by more talking, followed by even more talking. The recommendations of the Nordic Council are not binding, so at times the NC comes off more as a debating society than anything. Still, talking is better than shooting.