Minister Enestam at the opening of a Seminar on Nordic Co-operation Model in Beograde

Opening remarks Belgrade, 16 October 2001

Mr. Jan-Erik Enestam, Minister for Nordic Co-operation, Finland

Excellencies, colleagues from near and far, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for being here, all of you. And many thanks for inviting us, from the North of Europe, to hold a seminar in Belgrade.

We would not be here were it not for H.E. Goran Svilanovic. It was the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yugoslavia who last February, at a meeting with the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja, brought up the idea of arranging a presentation in Belgrade of Nordic regional co-operation. Finland, who is exercising the Chairmanship of Nordic co-operation this year, forwarded the proposal to the other Nordic countries and won their full support: presenting the Nordic Co-operation Model here was considered a timely task, especially with regard to the remarkable political changes which have taken place in Serbia in the past 12 months.

During the preparation of the seminar, it soon became obvious that the target group should be wide. The invited countries should span not only Western Balkans but also other states which have significant links – people-based, economic or political – with the region. Furthermore, it became clear that participants should represent various layers of society. Both NGOs and international organisations should be invited. Publicity and transparency must be our objectives. On this basis, we hope to reach both further and wider than with the two previous seminars on Nordic co-operation that were held in Sarajevo, in 1998, and in Ljubljana, a year and a half ago.

This far, I dare say, it would seem that we have been successful. Your presence here today is a positive indication of your interest, and we very much look forward to your participation in the coming discussions.

I thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for collaborating in an active and efficient way in the organisation of this seminar. Also the Embassies of the Nordic countries in Belgrade – and in the region – have been instrumental in the preparations.

When we now shall offer this overview of our Nordic co-operation, we do it both with pride and humility.

On the one hand, we know what we have achieved, and we know the preconditions we have had. Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are five relative small countries, with a total population of 24 million, situated in the extreme North of our continent. Our states include three autonomous areas, Åland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. To a large extent, we have a common population and linguistic base, but the Scandinavian tongues do not include Finnish. We also have minority languages ranging from Inuit in Greenland to Sami, which is spoken by the Laps living in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Several of the Nordic nations have suffered from severe hardship caused by the Second World War, and were for decades affected by the shadow of the Cold War.

During the past 50 years, notwithstanding, and to a large extent thanks to mutual support and growing regional integration, we have been able to transform and reach what we are today. By joining our forces we have come this far. We have been able to build stable societies with a welfare system where the state guarantees basic security for all. Political stability and predictability in the activities of the administrations all contribute to the growth of economic resources and their distribution. Legislation is not identical in the Nordic countries, but we have a tradition of comparing needs and solutions. And we have entered fruitful co-operation with other states in our region. In this context, our common Nordic institutions, and the practice of informal consultation among Nordic administrations, have been essential tools. Together, we have acquired a position which we could not have got alone. It is this experience we wish to share with you today.

On the other hand, we must admit that the co-operation among the five Nordic states has not always been as swift and smooth as possible. Some objectives have failed altogether and in some questions we simply can’t find a common approach. Above all, we recognise that our experience may not be directly applicable to other regions. The Nordic model is not the only one in the world. Each case is different, but the general principles – and benefits – of regional co-operation have proved to be valid.

For our discussion, it is useful to take a look at today’s network of international and regional organisations, and also look back at were we started in the early 1950’s. Today, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are members of the European Union. The other two, Iceland and Norway, are linked to the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement and the Schengen agreement. Iceland, Denmark and Norway are members of Nato, while Sweden and Finland remain non-aligned. As you can see, the Nordic countries have different membership profiles both militarily and economically. Foreign policy and defence questions have been included in the Nordic Council agenda only after the end of the Cold War. However, the Nordic countries have over the decades closely co-operated in the United Nations peace-keeping operations. In the UN, the Nordics have maintained a principle of rotation of membership in executive organs including the Security Council.

In the Nordic region, there are now several forms of co-operation:

  • the Council of Baltic Sea States, which includes 11 member states but has a rather constrained budget structure,
  • various instruments of co-operation exist between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,
  • the Barents Council is focusing on questions related to the northernmost areas of Europe,
  • the Arctic Council, which includes all countries with an interest in the top of the globe, and
  • the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers, whose members are the Nordic countries and the autonomous areas of Åland, Greenland and Faroe Islands.

    Among these regional organisations, the Nordic Council is the oldest, and together with the Nordic Council of Ministers, the only one with vast agenda, a significant operational budget, as well as substantial secretariats and institutions. The other regional organisations I mentioned have been created within the past 10 years, and their tasks are more specific.

    It was in the aftermath of World War II that Nordic parliamentarians decided to form the Nordic Council, in 1952. Finland became a member of the Nordic Council even before joining the United Nations, in 1956. At that time the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community, among the first six states, had not yet been signed. The corner stones of Nordic integration, the free movement of people and labour, and social security rights for citizens living in another Nordic country, were laid before the end of the 1950’s.

    History has shaped our Nordic co-operation. In the 1950’s, with the division imposed on Europe by the Cold War, the five Nordic countries had to find their individual solutions and seek support from each others. We made virtue out of necessity – acting alone would not have been fruitful enough.

    Fortunately, there was important public support for this growing Nordic integration. Already back in the beginning of the 19th century, the rise of nationalism had led to the birth of a movement called Scandinavianism. Inter-Nordic contacts had grown in academic circles, in the economic field, among political parties and trade unions. This can be seen as a kind of popular reaction against former political division. We must recall that over the centuries – since we were all Vikings in the 9th century, one might say – Nordic history also has included periods of domination of one country over another. But those elements of the past have not been allowed to hamper our present-day co-operation. There is a general will to look forward, not back.

    Nordic togetherness has been, and is, at the same time an affirmation of identity. We share not only a geographic region and a long history, but also a heritage of common moral and religious conceptions, of cultural and social values, and of democracy and justice.

    In the past 10 years, since the recuperation of independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we have also been able to re-establish our historic links to the peoples on the other side of the Baltic Sea. In many ways, the Baltic states can now participate in the work of our Nordic institutions. Ministerial meetings among a Nordic-Baltic group of Eight are held in various fields, including defence. Nevertheless, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have so far opted not to become members of the Nordic Council or Council of Ministers.

    In this context, I should add that Nordic co-operation with the Adjacent Areas also includes North-West Russia. Our regional activities are closely connected to the larger policy pursued by the European Union within the framework of the Northern Dimension. The basic aim of the Northern Dimension is to involve Russia in European co-operation. This policy covers primarily areas such as energy and environment.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    In our experience, regional co-operation has proved to yield many benefits. In addition to being relevant for the development of our own societies, it has helped us achieve a role in the United Nations and other international organisations. It has contributed to peace, democracy and stability in the North of Europe, and provided a base for our co-operation with a larger area, and within the European framework.

    It is our sincere wish that other regions – and that includes Western Balkans – could find similar ways and means towards the same goals. I confess that we are in particular sympathies with this multi-faceted and beautiful corner of Europe, whose nations have experienced periods of well-being and happiness and periods of much hardship. We fully endorse your rightful aspirations towards economic, social and political progress and encourage you to take your share in today’s growing European integration. We, in Northern Europe, achieved this through voluntary local and regional co-operation and through trust and good mutual relations, all of which are necessary preconditions for integration.

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    In this seminar, we shall be pleased to go into more details about our institutions and the various sectors of co-operation. The five Nordic countries are represented here by experts in individual fields, and by the President of our parliamentary assembly, the Nordic Council, and the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers. We shall all be ready to take your questions on each of the subjects of the seminar.

    Thank you once more for being with us today.