Economy

Scandinavia: Putting our eggs in the Nordic basket

2 November 2009
Dagens Nyheter Stockholm

Image: Presseurop, Enterprise Group

Image: Presseurop, Enterprise Group

Timed to coincide with the main session of the Nordic Council, Swedish historian Gunnar Wetterberg's proposal to unite the five states of northern Europe under one symbolic monarch, was launched by Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter on October 27. Although it has failed to achieve unanimous support, it has caused a stir in the national press.

There is no doubt that a Nordic Union would have brilliant prospects – but it has to happen first. The five Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden – have a total population of more than 25 million. In 2006, their combined GDP was more than 1,200 billion dollars (or 800 billion euros), making the Nordic region the tenth ranked economy in the world, just behind Canada and Spain but well ahead of Brazil and Russia.

If a Nordic Union is going to happen, it has to happen now. The economic crisis has highlighted the need for reinforced political co-operation and monitoring, and the importance of participation in high-level decision making bodies, where our individual countries could not hope to achieve a level of influence that could be exerted by the region. All of the Nordic economies could benefit from greater integration with neighbouring countries. As it stands, they are often overly dependent on one or two market sectors. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Finland found itself in difficulty. Today, it is Sweden and its car industry which is under pressure. If every country continues to cope on its own, similar problems will inevitably arise in the future. Finland continues to rely heavily on Nokia and the forestry industry, while Norway has an equally fragile industrial base. A Nordic Union would provide the stability of larger more diverse economy and offer the region's young people a wider range of career development possibilities.

No doubt, we will have to wait several generations for European cohesion to become a reality. In the meantime, a Nordic Union could mount a more energetic defence of northern countries' values and interests. It would also encourage the region's politicians to make a greater commitment to the EU, and improve their chances of obtaining key posts in the Commission and in the European Parliament. So how should this goal be achieved?

A federation with a parliament

A plan to construct a single unified state is neither realistic or desirable, and the notion of a Nordic Union will only find support if it is clear that it will value and strive to preserve the individual identity of each its member countries. On this basis, the obvious first step would be to constitute a confederation with five member countries. Initially, the Nordic Union should be the subject of outline negotiations between national governments, which ought to result in a  consensus – or failing that, at least a pledge that all the parties will participate. Thereafter, we could move to establish a bicameral government for the federation: a lower house established in elections with proportional representation and transnational electoral lists, and a senate, where the size of individual countries would play a less critical role in the attribution of seats.

The community should also adopt a common figurehead, and Queen Margrethe II (of Denmark) is the obvious choice for this role – especially when you consider the symbolic connotations of her name and the role played by Margrethe I in the Kalmar Union. She would be granted the status of "Union Sovereign" in each of the participating countries. If some of the partners are unable to accept this proposal, we could adopt a system like the one established in Malaysia, where the figurehead position is rotated from state to state – with seven sultans taking turns at the head of the federation. At the same time, it is important to point out that a parallel rotation on the level of executive administration would not be possible.

The language issue

A common language is one of the essential conditions for a future Nordic Union, and this issue will need to be addressed at an early stage. One solution would be to teach schoolchildren a second Nordic language in addition to their own. In the long term, the publication of official documents in two languages, Finnish and another Scandinavian language, should be sufficient – although Icelandic may present some additional difficulties.

I believe that the project is perfectly feasible, not least because Sweden's arrogance has considerably abated in recent years. The Norwegian economy is now the healthiest in the region, Finland leads the way in terms of research and modernisation, and Denmark has been first off the mark to resolve the adjustment problems associated with economic restructuring. Our political leaders now have an opportunity to revive the Kalmar Union (a union of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which lasted from 1397 to 1524). There is no denying that this would constitute a political task on an unprecedented scale, but I believe our efforts to achieve this goal would be well rewarded. Better late than never.