Pohjoismaisen yhteistyön sihteeristö

Pohjoismaisen yhteistyön ministeri Jan Vapaavuoren puhe hyvinvointi-konferenssissa Helsingissä 6.4.2011

Puheen esitti ministerin sijainen, Pohjoismaisen yhteistyön sihteeristön päällikkö Bo Lindroos.

"”What Role Will the Nordic Welfare Model Play in Globalization?” –  konferenssi pohjoismaisesta hyvinvointimallista.  
Helsinki, 6. huhtikuuta 2011

Nordic Welfare – a Model to Brand and Promote

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the Nordic cooperation minister, it is a pleasure to speak to you here today of a very fundamental Nordic topic; the Nordic welfare model.

Let me start with a few conceptual notes. The title of my presentation – Nordic Welfare - a Model to Brand and Promote – suggests that there exists a certain Nordic model, a common archetype, which can be branded and promoted, and subsequently also perhaps exported. I would argue that it makes perfect sense to continue building a brand out of the Nordic model, but this has probably less to do with the empirical Nordic reality than with more straightforward marketing purposes.

What do I mean by this? The Nordic countries share many similar characteristics and common values. We are internationally renowned for our relatively equal and open societies, stable and functioning democracies, and a broad support for our welfare systems. Moreover, determined action to enhance people-to-people interaction together with common Scandinavian languages and cultural habits constitute a joint Nordic frame to foster these traits. In short, we share a solid common ground that builds on similar values and has resulted in many ways resembling structures in society. However, each of the Nordic countries still pursues its own distinct set of policies and solutions to serve the best interests of their citizens. In this sense there is not a one-size-fits-all Nordic model but rather a set of underlying commons that the so-called Nordic model is built on.

On the other hand, based on our similarities, it is clearly rational to pool our forces and to seek for Nordic synergies and added-value, whenever it can be found. Along with globalization this has become all the more important. So while the actual goal of our promotion efforts might be exporting perhaps varying Nordic tools to create wellbeing, reinforcing the common brand of the Nordic welfare model will no doubt greatly support this aim.

Dear friends,

I will now proceed to elaborate briefly on the core, or raison d´être, of the so-called Nordic welfare model, this social innovation that has contributed to the high levels of the overall wellbeing in the Nordic countries. As evidence of this, the Nordic countries have done extremely well in practically all international surveys and rankings in recent years, be it about the level of education, competitiveness, corruption, wellbeing, or other indicators. To put it bluntly, it seems that we have managed to build rather good and smoothly operating societies. Perhaps most of all, the Nordic countries are known for their relative equality.

So what is the connection? I have no definite answer, but the discussion has picked up in the media with the publication of “Spirit Level”, a study (by the researchers Wilkinson and Pickett) claiming that low income disparities make for better and more prosperous societies for all. I do not know all the details of the research, but looking at the Nordic countries the argument seems to be quite solid; the Nordic welfare model is a combination of a relatively high level of wellbeing and prosperity and a relatively low level of inequality. This of course is very significant from the point of view of social justice. This can also be an economic strength to some extend as economic vitality requires trust. We are small countries, and we have understood the importance of trying to keep everybody onboard, participating and active. Yet from another angle, when the proportion of marginalized people exceeds a certain threshold, there is a risk that the system becomes dysfunctional. A sustainable welfare model, as we understand it, requires that as many as possible can contribute, which of course refers most of all to employment levels.

Still, we Finns have a paradoxical approach to these international comparisons. As soon as somebody has found proof that we are doing something right, we ourselves start questioning the results in a bizarre theatre of self-depreciation. Instead of falling into disbelief we should try to capitalize on this free-of-charge marketing. The Nordic experience is something to be proud of, so why not make the best of it and promote actively our know-how, even internationally?

One channel to advance our welfare solutions and engage in the international developments is provided through the so-called globalization initiatives of the Nordic Council of Ministers, but I will come back to this topic shortly.

Before that I would like to touch upon the future prospects and challenges of the Nordic welfare model. As any other organic structures, our societies are constantly changing and evolving. We respond to internal developments by policy changes, while we also face external pressures to adapt and adjust. The capacity to respond to all these challenges in a creative and constructive way is a key to medium and long-term success.

The Nordic welfare states are facing significant demographic challenges. The ratio of senior citizens compared to working-age people is increasing, bringing about more constraints on the financing of our welfare model. And this is specifically the case here in Finland. We need to develop new and more efficient ways of producing our welfare services if we aim at maintaining the system also in the decades to come. Thus, we should also see the importance of fostering possibilities for private sector success stories arising from Nordic countries as this would contribute to job creation and the increase of the necessary tax funds.

According to a recent report by the Nordic Council of Ministers (“Strategic Use of Public-Private Cooperation in the Nordic Region”), one solution to the sustainability challenge could be the implementation of new welfare technologies and innovative solutions which can increase the efficiency of service providers and deliver more value for money. At the same time, welfare technologies and innovations would potentially provide a huge new market to our companies as we are by no means the only countries in the world to grow old. The report states that a potential path could be a more resolute focus on public-private innovation partnerships. This could turn into a true win-win situation working for the benefit of all partners, both public and private, and responding to the expectations of the citizens.

Still on a broader scale, public sector entities should become more flexible and willing to adapt best practices from the private sector to their operations. For example, new public sector incentive structures and management would provide a supportive basis for more efficient operations and service production. Also comparisons and competition, not only across private and public sector entities but also within public sector itself, should be encouraged.

In addition to the issue of the demographic challenge and production of welfare services, we also need to cope with the question of social sustainability, or social coherence, referring to the ability to communicate, connect, and empathize between the various groups in society. At the bottom, the welfare model is based on the assumption that we all are in the same boat, regardless of our background or position in society, feeling at least some sort of unity and responsibility for one another. This is the spiritual glue that is needed to maintain the welfare model. It is also something that we all generate through our own everyday actions.


I would conclude by saying a few words about the main themes of the present Finnish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The number one topic is coping with climate change. We want to be international trailblazers in the area of climate change, with state-of-the-art technological know-how and the political will to go forward. Climate-friendly solutions are emphasised consistently on all levels, from local solutions through national policies to international negotiations. Moreover, green solutions and innovations are to provide us with competitive advantages and a sustainable base for our economies.

One substantial way to work on the climate issue is composed of the Nordic globalisation initiatives, launched by the Prime Ministers in 2007. Boldly, we aim at nothing less than a cutting-edge position in the area of education, knowledge and innovation, also putting emphasis on more coherent and efficient international Nordic profiling. So far the main focus has been on efforts related to climate/environment/energy, but more recently we have also launched an extensive initiative on health and welfare. The initiative seeks to enhance the sustainability and competitiveness of the Nordic welfare model by building new Nordic partnerships, creating synergies, and sharing best practices between the relevant partners in the field. To name a few examples of the focal areas that the project covers; groups risking marginalisation from the labour market, recruitment of foreign labour force, and innovations and entrepreneurship in health services - all relevant topics also for the discussion today. The support from the Nordic Council of Ministers for this and the coming year total some 3.5 million euro.

I would also like to take the opportunity and mention the biggest single event of the Finnish Presidency, as it creates a bridge from climate change to another of our main topics, namely the importance of engaging the younger generations. Aalto University will host a Nordic Climate Festival during the first days of September, inviting some one hundred Nordic university students to participate in cross-sectoral workshops and to discuss new innovative solutions to the climate change challenge.
In addition to the actual substance of the event, it also provides a forum for positive participation and involvement of young people, a crucial question for the future of Nordic cooperation. Related to the question of our Nordic identity comes the language issue. In the recent debate about Swedish language in Finland I am lacking the broader perspective. Swedish is for us also a means of locating ourselves in the world and relating to our Nordic neighbours. We benefit from our Nordic identity. Let’s not lose sight of this.

As a last priority, and a cornerstone of our open societies, I would highlight our efforts to promote the freedom of movement of individuals as well as businesses. It is both a question of individual rights and of economic rationality. Mobility and cross-border interaction are vital for many “border communities”, and in addition to the local level benefits it makes sense also from the point of view of the national economies. In concrete terms the task is two-fold; removing existing obstacles for free movement and preventing new barriers of being generated. During our Presidency we have now focused specifically on the social and labour sectors.

This work also supports the wellbeing of our citizens, the ultimate goal of any serious policy-maker.

Thank You.