Interview: Finland puts green agenda at the top of Nordic Council priorities list

The Finns take over the presidency of the organisation during 2021 - which is it's 50th anniversary.

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File picture of Thomas Blomqvist (SFP), Minister for Equality and Nordic Cooperation / Credit: SFP

Finland wants to focus on the climate crisis, sustainability, and more cooperation over security of supplies in times of crisis during its presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2021, as the region tries to recover from the impact of coronavirus which has put a strain on relations this year.

The Nordic Council, formed in 1952, comprises the five Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Denmark plus the autonomous regions of Åland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Council is made up of members of parliaments who focus on inter-parliamentary cooperation, and the Council of Ministers which handles government-to-government relations.

“The Nordic countries are close to each other culturally, with lively everyday interactions between our citizens. We are also interdependent economically” said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in a recent video message.

Despite each of the Nordic Council countries being, variously, members of the European Union, EFTA, EEA, Schengen or NATO, Finland’s Minister for Nordic Cooperation Thomas Blomqvist (SFP) says he thinks the organisation still has an important role to play giving a distinct voice for the region and taking action on issues which are important to northern nations.

“The Nordic countries have a lot in common. We have a lot of shared history, we have cultural similarities and as societies we are much alike. I think we have so many common interests, we should continue to have this Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers.”

The focus of Finland’s 2021 agenda on the environment and climate change is an easy subject for all the countries to agree on, and gives them the chance for coordinated action.

“We had a new vision last year when the prime ministers of the Nordic countries outlined three main goals. A green Nordic region, a competitive Nordic region and a socially sustainable Nordic region. And climate change is one of the main tasks” Blomqvist tells News Now Finland.

“During our presidency we will of course try to act in a way that we can fulfill the vision but we also have some specific presidency projects that we will push forward” he adds.

Some of those ideas include shared action on lowering emissions, where economic growth and green transition are not mutually exclusive goals. The Finns also want to tackle issues around declining biodiversity in the sea and on land; promote circular economy particularly in the construction industry; and to coordinate ‘climate diplomacy’ to push for concerted action on international climate goals.

“The Nordic countries are all trying to minimise the use of carbon-based fuel products and there we are all having the same goal, we want to promote bio-based and circular economy and that’s why we have a vision that we could all agree on” says Blomqvist.

Composite picture of Nordic Council flags

Deepening Nordic integration

Although the freedom of movement to live, work and study around the Nordics has been a mainstay of cooperation for decades, Blomqvist says there’s still more work that needs to be done.

Projects like a Nordic-wide standard for ID cards and more integrated social security systems seem to be moving a little bit slowly.

“Those questions are very important also now, and will be during our presidency. We want to support the development of an innovative and digital Nordic region. We have a specific presidency project where we aim to achieve smooth cross-border mobility and daily life through digitalization, and that we want to promote” explains Blomqvist.

The minister says there’s also going to be efforts next year to undo some of the damage caused by imposing travel restrictions between the countries – something Sweden in particular has been sore about – an anathema to the Nordic ideals of open borders.

“We see that we need more than ever to work ambitiously to promote mobility between our countries […] it has not been so easy, but I have had many many talks with my colleague [Swedish Minister for Nordic Affairs] Anna Hallberg and I think we also have succeeded to keep traffic open between our countries, you could live in Finland and go to work in Sweden” Minister Blomqvist says, although general travel including tourism has not been flowing during 2020.

“We tried to avoid that it would affect our societies and the people living in the border region, and tried to minimise the effects on that. But of course this is not the ideal situation that we have had, and still have, and as soon as it is possible and secure we want to go back to normal” the minister adds.

Next year Finland will also want the Nordic Council members to look at food supply security and other supply chain problems that were highlighted during the pandemic so far.

“I think in a very difficult situation we have tried to minimise the risks, and the damage to ordinary people and companies.”