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Nordic Council

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Nordic Council

Member states and regions of the Nordic Council (blue).
Member states and regions of the Nordic Council (blue).
Headquarters Copenhagen, Denmark
Working languages
Type Intergovernmental organization
 -  President Karin Åström
 -  Director (Secretariat) Britt Bohlin
 -  Chairman Eygló Harðardóttir
 -  General Secretary (Secretariat) Dagfinn Høybråten
 -  Nordic Council 1952 
 -  Nordic Council of Ministers 1971 
 -  2012 estimate 25,880,000

The Nordic Council is a geo-political inter-parliamentary forum for co-operation between the Nordic countries that was established after World War II. Its first concrete result was the introduction in 1952 of a common labour market and free movement across borders without passports for the countries' citizens.

In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental forum, was established to complement the Council.


During World War II, Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany; Finland fought a costly war with the Soviet Union; while Sweden, though neutral, still felt the war's effects. Following the war, the Nordic countries pursued the idea of a Scandinavian defence union to ensure their mutual defence. However, Finland, due to its Paasikivi-Kekkonen policy of neutrality and FCMA treaty with the USSR, could not participate. They would unify their foreign policy and defence and remain neutral in the event of a conflict and not ally with NATO, which was being planned at the time. The United States, keen on getting access to bases in Scandinavia and believing the Nordic countries incapable of defending themselves, stated it would not ensure military support for Scandinavia if they did not join NATO. The project collapsed as a result with Denmark, Norway and Iceland joining NATO.[1]

Further Nordic co-operation, such as an economic customs union, also failed. This led then-Danish Prime Minister Hans Hedtoft to propose, in 1951, a consultative inter-parliamentary body. This proposal was agreed by Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in 1952.[2] The Council's first session was held in the Danish Parliament on 13 February 1953 and it elected Hans Hedtoft as its president. When Finnish-Soviet relations thawed following the death of Joseph Stalin, Finland joined the council in 1955.[3]

On 2 July 1954, the Nordic labour market was created and in 1958, building upon a 1952 passport-free travel area, the Nordic Passport Union was created. These two measures helped ensure Nordic citizens' free movement around Scandinavia. A Nordic Convention on Social Security was implemented in 1955. There were also plans for a single market but they were abandoned in 1959 shortly before Denmark, Norway and Sweden joined the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Finland became an associated member of EFTA in 1961 and Denmark and Norway applied to join the European Economic Community (EEC).[3]

This move towards the EEC led to desire for a formal Nordic treaty; the Helsinki Treaty outlined the workings of the Council and came into force on 24 March 1962. Further advancements on Nordic cooperation were made in the following years: a Nordic School of Public Health, a Nordic Cultural Fund and Nordic House in Reykjavík. Then-Danish Prime Minister Hilmar Baunsgaard proposed full economic cooperation ("Nordek") in 1968. Nordek was agreed in 1970, but Finland then backtracked, stating that its ties with the Soviet Union meant it could not form close economic ties with potential members of the EEC (Denmark and Norway).[3] Nordek was then abandoned.

As a consequence, Denmark and Norway applied to join the EEC and the Nordic Council of Ministers was set up in 1971 to ensure continued Nordic cooperation.[4] In 1970 representatives of the Faroe Islands and Åland were allowed to take part in the Nordic Council as part of the Danish and Finnish delegations.[3] Norway turned down EEC membership in 1972 while Denmark acted as a bridge builder between the EEC and the Nordics.[5] Also in 1973, although Finland did not opt for full membership of the EEC, Finland negotiated a free trade treaty with the EEC that in practice removed customs duties from 1977 on, although there were transition periods up to 1985 for some products. Sweden did not apply due to its non-alliance policy, which was aimed at preserving neutrality. Greenland subsequently left the EEC and has since sought a more active role in circumpolar affairs.

In the 1970s, the Nordic Council founded the Nordic Industrial Fund, Nordtest and the Nordic Investment Bank. The Council's remit was also expanded to include environmental protection and, in order to clean up the pollution in the Baltic Sea and North Atlantic, a joint energy network was established. The Nordic Science Policy Council was set up in 1983[5] and, in 1984, representatives from Greenland were allowed to join the Danish delegation.[3]

Following the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Nordic Council began to cooperate more with the Baltic States and new Baltic Sea organisations. Sweden and Finland joined the European Union (EU), the EEC's successor, in 1995. Norway had also applied, but once again voted against membership.[6] However, Norway and Iceland did join the European Economic Area (EEA) which integrated them economically with the EU. The Nordic Passport Union was also subsumed into the EU's Schengen Area in 1996.

The Nordic Council became more outward looking, to the Arctic, Baltic, Europe and Canada. The Øresund Bridge linking Sweden and Denmark led to a large amount of cross-border travel leading to further efforts to reduce barriers.[6] However the initially envisioned tasks and functions of the Nordic Council have become partially dormant due to the significant overlap with the EU and EEA. Since 2008 Iceland has also sought EU membership.[7]



The Nordic Council consists of 87 representatives, elected from its members' parliaments and reflecting the relative representation of the political parties in those parliaments. It holds its main session in the autumn, while a so-called "theme session" is arranged in the spring. Each of the national delegations has its own secretariat in the national parliament. The autonomous territories – Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland – also have Nordic secretariats.[8]

The Nordic Council uses the three Continental-Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) as its official working languages, but also publishes material in Finnish, Icelandic and English.[9] Since 1987, under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs. The Convention covers visits to hospitals, job centres, the police and social security offices. The languages included are Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic.[10]

The Council does not have any formal power on its own, but each government has to implement any decisions through its country's legislative assembly (parliament). With Denmark, Norway and Iceland being members of NATO and Finland and Sweden being neutral, the Nordic Council has not been involved in any military cooperation.

Council of Ministers

The original Nordic Council concentrates on inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Nordic Council of Ministers, founded in 1971, is responsible for inter-governmental cooperation. Prime Ministers have ultimate responsibility but this is usually delegated to the Minister for Nordic Cooperation and the Nordic Committee for Co-operation, which co-ordinates the day-to-day work. The autonomous territories have the same representation as states.[11]


Nordic Council headquarters in Copenhagen. White building with Norden sign and flag at street Ved Stranden No. 18

The Nordic Council and the Council of Ministers have their headquarters in Copenhagen and various installations in each separate country, as well as many offices in neighbouring countries. The headquarters are located at Ved Stranden No. 18, close to Slotsholmen.


Members of the Council:

State Membership Parliament Membership status Represented since Members EU relation
 Denmark full Folketing sovereign state 1952 16 member
 Finland full Eduskunta sovereign state 1955 18 member
 Iceland full Alþingi sovereign state 1952 7 candidate
 Norway full Storting sovereign state 1952 20 associate
 Sweden full Riksdag sovereign state 1952 20 member
 Åland Islands associate Lagting self-governing region of Finland 1970 2 territory
 Faroe Islands associate Løgting self-governing region of the Danish Realm 1970 2 minimal
 Greenland associate Landsting self-governing region of the Danish Realm 1984 2 OCT
 Estonia observer Riigikogu sovereign state 1991 member
 Latvia observer Saeima sovereign state 1991 member
 Lithuania observer Seimas sovereign state 1991 member

The Sámi political structures (Sami Parliament) have long desired formal representation in the Nordic Council's structures, and are increasingly de facto included in activities touching upon their interests. In addition, the Faroe Islands have expressed their wishes for full membership in the Nordic Council instead of the current associate membership.

General Secretary

The following have been the General Secretaries presiding over the Council:


Some desire the Nordic Council's promotion of Nordic cooperation to go much further than at present. If the states of Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland were to merge in such an integration as some desire, it would command a gross domestic product of US$1.60 trillion, making it the twelfth largest economy in the world, larger than that of Australia, Spain, Mexico or South Korea. Gunnar Wetterberg, a Swedish historian and economist, wrote a book entered into the Nordic Council's year book that proposes the creation of a Nordic Federation from the Council in a few decades.[12]


As far back as 1999 Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was already making inroads for Baltic States to join with his famous "Estonia as a Nordic Country" speech in which he outlined Estonia's "special case" for membership.[13]

See also


  1. ^ The plan for a Scandinavian Defence Union, European Navigator. Étienne Deschamps. Translated by the CVCE.
  2. ^ Before 1952, Nordic Council
  3. ^ a b c d e 1953–1971 Finland joins in and the first Nordic rights are formulated., Nordic Council
  4. ^ The period up to 1971, Nordic Council of Ministers
  5. ^ a b 1972–1989, Nordic Council of Ministers
  6. ^ a b After 1989, Nordic Council of Ministers
  7. ^ "Further Icelandic support for EU membership | IceNews – Daily News". 3 November 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2009. 
  8. ^ About the Nordic Council
  9. ^ "Norden". Norden. 11 September 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2009. 
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ The Nordic Council of Ministers
  12. ^ Wetterberg, Gunnar (3 November 2010) Comment The United Nordic Federation, EU Observer
  13. ^ "Estonia as a Nordic Country". 

External links

  • Official website
    • Nordic Council sub-site
    • Nordic Council of Ministers sub-site
    • Office in Saint Petersburg
    • Office in Kaliningrad
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