The importance of Nordic cooperation

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States

Photo: Norwegian Parliament
Norunn Tveiten Benestad (Conservative Party) is a member of the Norwegian parliament for Vest-Agder and a delegate to the Nordic Council.

NORUNN TVEITEN BENESTAD
Norwegian Parliament
Nordic Council

During the COVID-19 pandemic, borders between Nordic countries have been closed. That is a rare experience in peacetime. To many citizens, this has led to a radical change in their daily lives. It has demonstrated to us how closely integrated the people in the Nordic countries are, and it has reminded us of the importance of Nordic cooperation. 

The Nordic cooperation is the world’s oldest regional cooperation.  It has deep roots in shared values and similar political, cultural, and economic views. We have a bold vision: to make the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. The main aim of the Nordic Council, which brings together parliamentarians from the Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland—is to promote freedom of movement in the Nordic region. Thus, Nordic governments, with this aim in mind, work closely together to solve issues of practical character to make life easier for their citizens. Removing barriers to cross-border movements and facilitating cross-border activities enable Nordic citizens to work in other Nordic countries and create conducive conditions for livelihoods and businesses in the region. 

The Nordic Council works to develop common Nordic solutions to common challenges and in different sectors, such as climate and environment, culture, welfare, and growth and development. Cooperation is focused on areas in which it creates added value to the countries and peoples of the region. 

An issue that lies particularly close to my heart is how we, as politicians, through Nordic cooperation, can ensure that a larger portion of our youth has the best possible conditions to succeed. We must help prepare young people for a more uncertain future. Education and training are key factors. The Nordic Council has during the past few years worked to reduce and prevent dropouts from high school. The numbers vary across the Nordic countries, but in general, it is a significant challenge. It is important to share and develop good practices in order to ensure that all young people complete their upper secondary education. It was a pleasure to participate in a round table conference on this topic, which was organized in Oslo last year. 

Connected to this, the council has initiated different measures to dismantle obstacles related to cross-border authorization of education and professional qualifications. I believe it is important that the process of approving education or professional qualifications is smooth and easy for Nordic inhabitants. It enables us to make better use of our human resources and strengthen the cross-border, Nordic labor market. This is particularly important concerning vocational studies and career opportunities. The Nordic countries are all in need of more workers with good qualifications in practical professions. 

Another issue that I have focused on is promotion of our common Nordic culture. The Nordic countries, although different and diverse, have many cultural features in common. I strongly believe that this makes a solid pillar for our good and tight cooperation, making it even more important to preserve and cultivate. An essential aspect is language. Norwegian, Swedish and Danish share many similarities, but research shows that young people understand less of the neighboring languages and tend to communicate more in English than older generations. In general, there’s little knowledge of Finnish and Icelandic outside those countries themselves. Consequently, we must put more emphasis on making students familiar with Nordic languages and cultural expressions in schools. We can make more use of digital platforms to realize this goal. 

During the past couple of years, in line with the global development agenda, the Nordic Council has emphasized sustainable development and climate change. The involvement is manifested in local as well as global initiatives. The council has integrated the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in its work. Environment, biodiversity, and preservation of natural resources are important in the council’s work. So is the issue of climate change, which was the main debate topic during the Nordic Council’s yearly main session last fall. At the global level, for example, in the U.N. climate negotiations during COP25 [the U.N. Climate Change Conference] and U.N. negotiations on a global treaty for biodiversity, the Nordic countries seek to present a united Nordic voice on issues concerning the environment and climate change. Among the issues of high concern and relevance to the Nordic countries is combatting plastic in the oceans. In 2018, Norway launched a High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, where the leaders of 14 coastal states work together with the United Nations to ensure sustainable use of resources from the oceans and cleaner oceans. Locally, the council is working to develop common practices to establish an environmentally friendly, common Nordic building sector, which leaves behind a reduced carbon emission footprint. 

This enlightens how the Nordic countries can achieve greater results—locally and at the global level—when working together. By building on our common ground, shared values, cultural experiences, and visions for our societies, we should seek to tighten the Nordic cooperation further. It will benefit the citizens of the Nordic countries. And it proves especially important now, in times of a global health crisis. 

This article originally appeared in the July 31, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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