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A Nordic Union (That Wasn't)

by NordicStorm Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 09:06:01 AM EST

This year it'll be 40 years since negotiations began in 1968 on the Nordek treaty, which would have established a customs union and common economic area between Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. While the treaty ultimately was never ratified, with the final nails in the coffin being hammered in a mere 2 years later, it could nevertheless be interesting to examine its history and legacy.

Diary rescue by Migeru

The Nordic countries (the aforementioned four countries and Iceland) have a long history of cooperation and collaboration (if not without friction and not always on a voluntary basis). In 1397, much of the current-day Nordic region was united in the Kalmar Union, which would last until Sweden broke away in 1536 (Denmark and Norway would remain in union until 1814). The 19th century saw the rise of the Scandinavism movement (though its importance should not be overstated), which proclaimed that the Scandinavian countries, with their shared culture, history and similar languages, should be one nation, and towards the end of the 19th century the three countries entered a currency union that would last until the early 1900s. Sweden and Norway were in a political union for much of the 19th century (though not a union Norway had entered voluntarily). Ultimately, a Scandinavian nation would not materialise; instead, the union between Sweden and Norway would come to an end in 1905. Cooperation between the nations would however continue; the first Nordic Association was formed in Sweden in 1919, an association seeking increased cooperation between the Nordic countries. Similar organisations would be formed in the other Nordic countries in the following years.
The cooperation between the Nordic countries intensified in the period after World War II. The Nordic Council, a body for cooperation between the countries' respective parliaments, was formed in 1952. A passport union was established in 1954 (some 30 years before the first Schengen agreement of 1985).

The first attempts at a common Nordic economic area were made in the late 1940s and during the 1950s, but were ultimately abandoned at the foundation of EFTA, of which Sweden, Denmark and Norway were founding members. The idea of a Nordic economic area would regain interest in the mid-to-late 1960s. Instrumental to the reemerging interest in such a union was the president of France, Charles de Gaulle. Norway and Denmark had applied for membership in the European Economic Community, but with de Gaulle's veto of British membership in the EEC, accession talks were suspended for Norway and Denmark. Being caught in-between EEC and EFTA, and increasingly frustrated with a stagnant EFTA, Denmark began showing renewed interest in closer cooperation with their closest neighbours. With increased Nordic cooperation, it would be easier for the entire region to assert itself economically and politically. This wasn't necessarily conceived as a competing organisation to EFTA and the EEC, it would rather serve as a complement. In some ways, Denmark and Norway viewed as a stepping stone into the EEC. In light of previous actions taken to increase cooperation in the Nordic region, increased economic collaboration also seemed like the natural next step.

In early 1968, Denmark takes the initiative, when, during a meeting of the Nordic Council, Prime Minister Hilmar Baunsgaard proposes increased cooperation in trade and other economic issues. The other three countries agree, and on March 11, negotiations formally begin in Copenhagen. Negotiations proves to be difficult, with the countries having difficulties agreeing on common policies in a variety of fields.

A final proposal is presented in July 1969; the proposed treaty would establish a Nordic union with similarities to the Rome treaty establishing the EEC. Under the terms of the treaty, the member countries would cooperate in a number of fields, including the economy, agriculture, work- and sociopolitical matters and education. The centerpiece of the treaty is the customs union, to be established in 1972. Decisions in the union were to be made by a Council of Ministers, with one representative from each of the member countries. Cooperation on matters of foreign policy isn't part of the treaty.

The final draft of the treaty is ultimately agreed upon and presented at the Nordic Council's session in Reykjavik in February 1970. Signing of the treaty is supposed to take place on April 2. However, on March 24, the government of Finland declares that it would not sign the Nordek treaty, much to the surprise of the other three countries. Sweden, in particular Prime Minister Olof Palme, attempts to pressure Finland into reconsidering, but by the end of 1970, with Norway and Denmark shifting its focus to EEC membership, it has become clear that Nordek is all but dead.

The seeds of failure were sown early on in the process. In 1969, with de Gaulle no longer president of France, and with Denmark seeking to have continued access to the British market, accession talks began anew between the EEC and Norway and Denmark. When work had begun on Nordek, Denmark and Norway considered their prospects of attaining membership of the EEC in the near future slim. However, when the opportunity to join appeared earlier than expected, much of the impetus for creating a Nordic union disappeared. It also revealed a difference of opinion on the future of Nordek; Denmark and Norway viewed it as a way into the EEC, and Sweden and Finland saw it more as a Nordic union for its own sake.
Finland, meanwhile, had problems of its own, having been forced to balance on the ledge of the iron curtain (see my diary on Finlandisation). The Soviet Union, viewing Finland as part of its sphere of influence, was not particularly keen on Finland forming closer economic ties with the west, and had made sure Finland was well aware of its displeasure with the development. Additionally, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Finnish Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto and President Urho Kekkonen to cooperate on much of anything, making ratification of the treaty even more difficult. Finland's special relationship to the Soviet Union had to be taken into consideration during the negotiations, making cooperation on foreign policy difficult, not to say impossible.

With Nordek a failure, Denmark would ultimately join the EEC, Norway remained outside following a referendum where the Norwegian population rejected membership. Sweden and Finland would join the EU in 1995.
So was it all for naught? While Nordek is now long forgotten by most, there's at least one lasting legacy: in 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers was established as a for the Nordic governments to cooperate with each other, and cooperation between the Nordic countries continues and develops further in an impressive number of fields.

Nordek is sometimes considered a mere vanity project, an attempt at reviving Nordist or Scandinavist sentiments, some sort of romantic nationalist wet dream of a unified Nordic state. There may certainly be an element of that, but Nordek was ultimately an attempt, albeit a failed one, at a practical realisation of a sentiment everyone should hold dear: we can achieve more by working together than by tearing each other apart.


Fun drinking game: take a shot of jäger everytime you spot the word "cooperation" in the diary...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Mar 20th, 2008 at 06:47:07 PM EST
There have been three other Nordic cooperation efforts, on the military side. The first was in 1948 (IIRC) when Sweden tried to create a Nordic military alliance. For obvious reasons, including the way Sweden gave Finland unofficial military guarantees during the 30's just to abandon them when push came to shove, this came to naught.

During the Cold War there were plenty of secret military cooperation between the Nordic countries, which I won't delve deeper into here, beyond noting that a free and independent Sweden was crucial for the security of Norway, just as a free and indepent Finland (and Baltic states) are crucial for the security of Sweden. And obviously, a free and independent Norway is crucial for the security of the Atlantic convoys in WWIII, and hence crucial for the security of West Germany. Anyway, many crucials there.

The third bout of military cooperation has begun in the last few years. Let me quote from that article in TWS:

Sweden is presently the driving force behind the Nordic Cooperation movement, an attempt to develop an integrated defense and industrial policy covering Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Baltic States. This has picked up significant momentum in the last few years, in part because of the experience of the Nordic Battle Group, in part because of the recognition that these technologically advanced but sparsely populated countries cannot afford to field large forces individually, and finally, because of the recent rumblings of the Russian bear. Already the Nordic Cooperation group is engaged in joint system development and procurement, joint planning and exercises, and is moving towards some degree of specialization and division of labor in defense tasks.

Denmark is also taking some part in this.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 06:33:11 AM EST
I mentioned in passing the Nordic military union in my diary on the Nordic Council. But yeah, in hindsight it may have been pretty much a stillborn project (perhaps not so much due to a sense of abandonment among the Finns, but more due to its emerging "special" relationship with the Soviet Union).

Cooperation with the Baltic states ought to be encouraged, not just on defense matters (and I wouldn't put too much stock in any threat the Russian bear supposedly pose, at any rate). Estonia in particular seems rather keen on closer ties with the Nordic countries. The current president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, even gave a speech entitled "Estonia as a Nordic country". Now, if only we could get the Nordic countries to agree with that sentiment...  

All that said, The Weekly Standard!?!?!

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 06:55:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, yes, I know. I don't read the paper, but I was linked to it from a blog I read. It's a very good article in spite of being in the TWS.

And the article connects to another thing too, namely the fact that I wouldn't be suprised if a big part of the Swedish enthusiasm for this is based on the chance of selling 48 Gripens each to Norway and Denmark, and eventually also to Finland. After all, a key area in the cooperation is joint procurement. And as Sweden buys a dispropotionate amount of Swedish gear, everyone else will also have to do that (though they already do that to some degree). ;) Sure, the other Nordic countries have arms industries too, but not at all as big part of their economy is there.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 07:34:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's an interesting and informative article (its origin notwithstanding), though its biases shine through in some places. Characterising Finland as a mere Soviet satellite state, as the article does, is a gross oversimplification at best or an outright falsehood at worst. The author is perhaps a bit too stuck in a Cold War frame of how things are.
But anyway, to get to the nutmeat of the article, the economic perspective. That drives a lot of cooperation (yes, there's that word again!) in the Nordic countries, more so than some romantic ideals of "brother nations". Sheer pragmatism, really.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 08:01:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not think Finland was that much of an issue as the defense union was supposed to include Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Paragraph from swedish wikipedia to support that:

Norden - Wikipedia, den fria encyklopedin

Under tiden efter andra världskriget utvecklades det moderna politiska nordiska samarbetet. Från svenskt håll föreslogs direkt efter andra världskriget att Sverige, Danmark och Norge skulle bilda ett försvarsförbund. Den 15 oktober utsågs i Oslo en skandinavisk försvarskommitté och under 1949 undertecknades kommitténs betänkande. Detta misslyckades, och Danmark och Norge gick med i NATO medan Sverige förblev neutralt. År 1952 grundades Nordiska rådet med syfte att öka samarbetet i Norden i kulturella, politiska, juridiska och sociala frågor. Sedan Finland anslöt sig 1955 uteslöts ända till 1990-talet utrikespolitiken från Nordiska rådets diskussioner. Detta berodde på att Finland hade ett samarbetsavtal som hette VSB med Sovjetunionen. De viktigaste framstegen var de första projekt som genomfördes: nordiska passunionen och den gemensamma nordiska arbetsmarknaden, vilka infördes 1954.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 02:22:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, I'm probably getting my history all garbled up there. My bad. Let's blame it on a lifetime of alcohol abuse (it's all true, except the part about the lifetime of alcohol abuse).

At any rate, a Nordic military alliance was a no-go for Finland...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 05:04:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I always liked the Danish definition of "Civil Defence"

...a tape recorder saying "I surrender" in Russian....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 03:21:02 PM EST

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