Ambassador Ole Norrback on cross-border co-operation in Beograde

Ambassador Ole Norrback on cross-border co-operation in Beograde

Ambassador Ole Norrback Cross-border Co-operation Seminar on the Nordic Co-operation Model, Beograde, 16 October 2001


Whether we like it or not, nations and people interact more and more. Increased international co-operation reduces the room for manoeuvre enjoyed by nation states and their political decision-makers to make sovereign decisions on behalf of their citizens and territories. An increasing number of problems cannot be solved at national level, but only through international co-operation. Environmental problems do not stop at national borders. Only successful international co-operation can combat terrorism and organised crime. Cross-border trade creates and improves material welfare all over the world. However, clear rules and regulations are needed for international trade and economic co-operation in order to avoid a situation where the benefits are enjoyed only by the few. Isolation is not strength in the modern world. Co-operation provides strength, stability and peace.

For centuries, Finland was a battlefield in wars between Russia and Sweden. When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in autumn 1939, World War Two became an armed struggle for the independence of my homeland. Preserving national independence remained our most important policy objective throughout the Cold War, but diplomacy and good political relationships to all our neighbours became the most important means to that end. It may seem like a bit of a paradox that we are now ready to give up some of the national right to self-determination that we fought for to international organs like the EU. New eras require new solutions. International co-operation provides the citizens of Finland with greater benefits - in terms of security, peace and material welfare - than national isolation could possibly provide. In a changing world, structures for co-operation and decision making have to change, too.

No country, neither Finland, nor Yugoslavia, has a monopoly on historical injustice. There are two ways of dealing with them. One is to try to correct the perceived injustice, no matter how long ago it was committed. This is unlikely to be the most successful approach. It turns historical conflicts into long-term, semi-permanent problems. The other way is to look forward, not to burden the present generation with the mistakes and violence of previous generations, but to encourage trust and co-operation between the conflicting parties. Finland chose the latter path.

Nations cannot choose their neighbours. What we can decide, to a great extent, is the nature of relationship we have with them. Nordic history has taught us that a close and good relationship to our neighbours is the best possible guarantee for peace and stability. After World War Two, Finnish political leaders - very openly and very clearly - promoted correct and positive relations with our former enemy, the Soviet Union. Even our war veterans established a broad range of activities along with Soviet veterans - the very people who had stood on the opposite sides of the front and waged war on each other for five years. Co-operation with the Soviet Union offered the space needed for my country and its people to shape our own future on our own terms. This co-operation was not based on political ideology - the Communist Party never scored better than about a quarter of the votes in Finnish elections - but on the realisation that co-operation was in Finland's best interests.

By contrast, Nordic co-operation is based on common values and goals on how our societies ought to be developed. The political parties may have different short-term political goals and methods, but most Nordic politicians share similar views on how a legally constituted democratic state ought to function. Basic rights, such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, religious freedom and freedom of assembly are all constitutionally guaranteed. An independent judiciary guarantees legal rights and equality of citizens in the eyes of the law. Independent mass media and maximum administrative openness guarantee the citizens insight into the activities of the executive. The Nordic welfare model provides all our citizens with more or less equal rights and access to education and training. Progressive taxation and redistribution to citizens on low incomes guarantee that everybody enjoys a basic level of security.

In the beginning, Nordic co-operation was both unique and exclusive. The situation is different now. Extensive co-operation has become the norm between countries in many parts of the world. Nor is Nordic co-operation exclusively Nordic any more. It increasingly involves the adjacent areas, the Baltic countries and North-West Russia, and also Poland and Germany are involved. However, within the EU blocks have always been discouraged, as they would only make the whole EU project far more difficult to implement.

Regional cross-border co-operation plays an important role in the Nordic countries. The Öresund Bridge brings the Copenhagen and Malmö regions closer together than ever before. The neighbouring towns Haparanda in Sweden and Tornio in Finland are planning to share administrative buildings built
- literally - across the border. The joint buildings will house local as well as national bodies such as the police. A great deal of creative imagination will still be needed on the part of the national authorities before the plan becomes reality, but the local people are used to moving at will across the almost completely unmanned border and do not consider the idea to be in the slightest bit controversial. Similar types of co-operation flourish along most of the internal Nordic borders.

Nordic co-operation involves culture, politics, trade, economics, sport, the authorities and - above all - the people. Freedom of movement in the Nordic countries - the passport union and absence of visa requirements - make co-operation easier, of course. The intensity of the co-operation may vary from area to area, but the scope is wide and growing. Co-operation on trade and economic affairs is intensifying at the moment.

Finland and Norway, both of which have land borders with Russia, actively encourage co-operation with the border regions in Russia. This is not necessarily easy, as the border is still strictly controlled. However, the will to co-operate across the Russian border is strong in all three countries. There can hardly be a border anywhere else in the world where the contrasts are so great in terms of material affluence, as they are in Norway and Finland, on one side, and Russia, on the other. The most important policy goal for the co-operation - for a variety of humanitarian and security reasons - is to reduce those differences as far as possible.

The former Communist countries, both in the Balkans and in the adjacent areas of the Nordic countries, have a lot of work ahead in transforming their whole societies. New skills are required at all levels of society: legislation and rules have to be revised, the executive has to be subjected to basic changes, the market economy demands a whole new business culture and pluralist democracy presupposes significant changes in the attitudes and actions of the electors and their representatives alike. This process takes time, but it can be speeded up by learning from experience elsewhere, e.g. the Nordic countries. The conversion of the Baltic states to democracy and the market economy has been speedy and yet mistakes have been avoided, partly due to the fact that Baltic politicians, civil servants, teachers and journalists have been able to draw on the experience of Nordic countries. Nordic ministries and other administrative organs, including the private sector, have invited Baltic colleagues to training sessions arranged for civil servants, and have also drawn up special training programmes based on Baltic needs. Similar co-operation has also started with Russia and it covers in particular training of the police, customs and border control officals.

On the whole, cross-border co-operation used to be regulated by bilateral agreements. Like everybody else, Finland had separate agreements with each trading partner. Their contents were usually identical, but special clauses were inserted to suit specific national needs. When Finland joined the EU, these bilateral trade agreements were abolished. EU membership has also reduced the need for bilateral agreements in a number of other spheres. EU enlargement, as well as broader and more in-depth co-operation, mean that an ever larger proportion of our international co-operation is controlled by the EU, directly or by the agreements that the EU reaches with other parties on behalf of the member countries. European integration and globalisation both increase the volume of international co-operation. International co-operation, including cross-border co-operation, is facilitated by the fact that there is only a limited number of rules and agreements, that they are comprehensive and readily understood. A forest of bilateral agreements is a major impediment to international co-operation.

Within the EU, the importance of national boundaries will be reduced even further as new freedoms of movement for individuals, services and money become a reality. There is an inherent dynamic in EU co-operation that continually drives it towards more comprehensive, more in-depth integration. The common market and common fiscal policy increase the demands for continual improvements to the co-ordination of economic policy, i.e. protection of the member countries' national economies. Events in the world around us underline the need for better co-operation in foreign and defence policies. In the fight against terrorism and criminality, progress cannot be made unilaterally.

European integration, especially in the EU, is possible because its decisions are based on pragmatism and on the need for common solutions which are for the best of all European citizens. A characteristic feature in European policy is that differences are not ideological to any great extent the way they were during the Cold War. They tend to be more conditional on national interests, and the arguments are often meant for domestic consumption rather than as a means of influencing the decision makers or public opinion in other countries. However, this method of discussion undermines the credibility of European co-operation in the eyes of citizens, who do not have the opportunity to follow the real debate and the real decision-making process, in which the arguments are more analytical. Thus, European policy can mistakenly be perceived as the domain of the political elite. This is not the case! Anybody who studies the decisions taken at EU summits, for example, will quickly see that they emanate very much from the people's needs. The main aims of the co-operation are, after all, stability, security and material welfare for the citizens of Europe.

During the Cold War, non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries was a principle that was generally accepted by most countries, except by the super powers. The principle is no longer quite as valid. There is nowadays a significant number of cases, in various parts of the world, of such intervention, and the list is increasing. The on-going combat of terrorism, with intervention into Afghanistan, is the latest example. The level of understanding for measures of this kind increases when they are intended to improve security and stability, and not based on power politics. Those who are subject to persecution and oppression are unlikely to oppose international involvement designed to guarantee their basic human rights. This type of international activity is expected to continue and expand.

Obviously, globalisation affects cross-border co-operation. The word globalisation is sometimes 'only' associated with trade and economic co-operation. This narrow interpretation clouds legitimate debate about the advantages and disadvantages of globalisation. Debate is made easier if the word globalisation is taken to cover all forms of worldwide co-operation. There is a growing number of areas in which we need common, global rules and agreements, so that co-operation can develop in a way that benefits people in every country.

Breaches of global rules are a serious problem in international co-operation. International co-operation, including the market economy, always needs clear rules if it is to function properly. In the absence of rules, the most ruthless wins at the cost of the weakest and most honest. It is said that globalisation cedes more and more power to market forces. This is partially true. However, there is one power that is strong enough to regulate market forces - political power. International political co-operation can be used to draw up rules for countries and businesses and guarantee that it is not just the profit making motive that governs production and trade, but that ethical values, human rights and environmental protection also play a part. We have these kinds of rules in our national legislation. Politicians can do the same at international level. It is a matter of will and ability.

Today, Nordic co-operation is on the increase in particular at company level. Specialisation means that national markets rapidly become too small. To exploit their expertise and develop new skills, companies need bigger markets. It is natural to start in neighbouring countries.

From the start, Nordic co-operation was mainly political in nature. Partly as a result of the EU's rapidly growing role in Europe, political co-operation between the Nordic countries is now less prominent. As the EU expands and international co-operation increases, the need for like-minded countries to co-ordinate their policies also increases. It is, therefore, reasonable to predict a renaissance in Nordic political co-operation in the next few years.

Naturally enough, Nordic co-operation is intended, first and foremost, to benefit the citizens of the Nordic countries. The general public's positive attitude to Nordic co-operation proves that it has been a success. Nordic opinion polls show that national identity is the strongest one, followed closely by Nordic identity, and with European identity lagging well behind. International co-operation needs popular support if it is to be a success. The strong support for Nordic co-operation guarantees it a special role.

Above all else, Nordic co-operation has been an important instrument for peace, for stability, and for social and material welfare in our part of the world. We have no desire to sound like schoolmasters who always know best, but we are very keen to share our experiences with all those who want to learn from what we have done in the past, are doing today and will continue to do in the future. Thank you for listening.