Address to the Storting on Nordic cooperation

Address to the Storting by Anne Beathe Tvinnereim on Nordic cooperation (in capacity of being Minister for Nordic cooperation).

Mr President,

Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity for me to give an address to the Storting on Nordic cooperation and Norway’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, in my capacity as Minister for Nordic Cooperation.

I would also like to thank the Storting’s Delegation to the Nordic Council for fruitful discussions during the recent theme session in Malmø. There, we discussed the future of the Nordic welfare model, Nordic crisis management and emergency preparedness cooperation, border obstacles, and in particular the situation in Ukraine.

Mr President,

A film about Queen Margaret I of Denmark is currently being shown in cinemas in the Nordic countries. It tells the story of a strong woman who was to become the founder and ruler of the Kalmar Union, which included the Kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The film brings our shared Nordic history to life. The Nordic region has experienced unions, alliances, wars and discord.

The history of the Nordic region in the modern era can surely be described as a success story. All five Nordic countries are to be found towards the top of the UN Human Development Index. Clearly, the Nordic countries have succeeded in building stable, secure welfare-based societies that to a large extent manage to meet the needs and wishes of their inhabitants.

The reason for this, I think, is that we share a set of core values, values that also underpin our Nordic cooperation and bind us together. We are all open, liberal societies where there is a high degree of trust – both within and between our countries, and we have well-functioning institutions and a strong tradition of cooperation.

But we cannot take these values for granted. For a long time, we have seen that multilateral cooperation and international rules and norms have been under increasing pressure. But the threat goes deeper than we had thought. Today, the fundamental values of liberal democracy themselves are under attack. We are witnessing a brutal, illegal war of aggression on our European continent.

We must stand together to defend our values and stand up for a world where international law prevails over the use of force. The Ukrainian people’s fight for their freedom is also a fight for our values.

The Nordic Council of Ministers has suspended its cooperation with Russia in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Project support for Belarus has also been frozen. But it is important for me to make it quite clear that the action we have taken is directed towards the governments in these two countries, not the Russian or Belarusian people.

Mr President,

This year, it is 70 years since the Nordic Council was established. And 60 years since the Helsinki Treaty was signed. Last year, we marked the 50th anniversary of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Together, these three structures have helped shape the Nordic region we see today. In its political platform, the Government has stated that it will develop and deepen Nordic cooperation in a range of fields.

Last summer, the Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers carried out a survey to find out what people in the Nordic region think of Nordic cooperation. The result was clear: Nordic cooperation enjoys broad popular support. Some 60 % of respondents indicated that they want to see more cooperation between the Nordic countries.

This sends an important signal to us as politicians. I think it shows that people in the Nordic region feel that Nordic cooperation has a positive, practical impact on their lives. For 70 years, people in the Nordic countries have been able to travel freely throughout the region without passport checks at borders, and settle where they wish to in the region without needing to apply for a residence permit. For almost as long, we have had a common Nordic labour market. All this has helped to build trust and a common identity, and has made a real difference to people’s lives.

Mr President,

Dealing with the pandemic has been challenging for all the Nordic countries. Two years ago, comprehensive measures were introduced across the Nordic region in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in order to save lives and protect health. All the Nordic countries had to take difficult decisions, and we did not always choose the same approach. The strict entry rules that were imposed presented significant challenges for employees and companies. The people of the Nordic region, particularly in the border areas, were truly put to the test. The normal school routine for children and young people was turned upside down. Education and research cooperation across the Nordic region was severely affected. Cultural activities – which are an important component of Nordic cooperation – were also hard hit.

The restrictions imposed on people during the pandemic created more than just practical challenges. In particular, restrictions introduced by Norway triggered strong reactions in Sweden. Swedish politicians have used words such as ‘despair’, ‘anger’, even ‘diminished trust’ when talking about the feelings of people in the border areas.

Although we may not see things quite the same way in Norway, we must take these reactions seriously. It is important to do what we can to restore mutual trust across Nordic borders.

That said, it is safe to say that our Nordic cooperation fared well during the pandemic, despite temporary restrictions and different national approaches.

The pandemic has reminded us just how much we depend on each other and how important our cooperation is. It has also confirmed the resilience of Nordic solidarity and its practical value.

As we now put the pandemic behind us, we must make use of lessons learned over the past two years. This work has already begun.

Mr President,

In 2019, the Nordic prime ministers adopted a new vision for Nordic cooperation: the Nordic region is to become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. We must work together to build a green, competitive and socially sustainable Nordic region. These are the three strategic priorities at the core of Vision 2030.

Vision 2030 is the roadmap for the Norwegian Presidency.

Vision 2030 addresses the greatest challenge of our time – the climate crisis. Solving this crisis will require adaptation across all sectors. We will use our close Nordic cooperation to be a pioneer region at the international level and we will do our part to promote the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal. Nordic cooperation is important not only for Norway and the other Nordic countries, but also for Europe and the world as a whole.

A four-year action plan (2021–2024) describing concrete initiatives to support the implementation of Vision 2030 has also been drawn up. In line with this, activities will now be carried out under four-year budgets and there will be a gradual redistribution of the Nordic budget. This is important for ensuring continuity in the work of the Council of Ministers. As a result of the redistribution of resources, some sectors have been given larger budgets, while others have had their budgets reduced. The redistribution of resources is essential in order to enable the Council of Ministers to deliver on the goals of Vision 2030.

But we should bear in mind that the budget was adopted before the pandemic struck. The cultural, research and education sectors have been particularly hard hit. It was therefore important to agree on a budget for 2022 that took the impacts of the pandemic into consideration. I look forward to continued constructive cooperation with the Nordic Council on issues relating to the budget.

The mid-term evaluation of the work to realise Vision 2030 will be an important task during Norway’s Presidency. I will make sure that there is close dialogue with the Nordic Council and civil society in this process. The results of the evaluation will help us to maintain a steady course in our ongoing efforts. The mid-term report will be presented to the Nordic prime ministers in the autumn, and at the Nordic Council session in Helsinki.

Mr President,

There are a wide range of efforts being carried out across the Nordic region in general, and under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers in particular. All the ministers in the current Norwegian Government are deeply involved in these efforts within their respective areas of responsibility. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the areas that are now being given priority during the Norwegian Presidency.

I will start with cooperation on crisis management and security of supply.

There is a long tradition of Nordic cooperation on emergency preparedness and crisis management. The pandemic has revealed both strengths and weaknesses in this cooperation. It is therefore no surprise that the Nordic governments have received various proposals for how we can further develop and strengthen our efforts in these areas. These have both been set out in independent reports commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers and received in the form of input from the Nordic Council.

In November last year, the Nordic prime ministers issued a joint statement on deepening cooperation in the field of security of supply and preparedness. The statement drew on experience gained during the pandemic. It acknowledged the importance of ensuring the availability of critical labour, with reference in particular to cross-border mobility.

At the same time, the joint statement pointed out the need to prepare for all potential crisis scenarios. This has been dramatically highlighted by the critical situation that has arisen following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: close cooperation between the Nordic countries is essential to be able to respond to crises of all kinds.

Cooperation in this field takes place under various frameworks, including the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Haga cooperation on civil preparedness and protection, the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) and the Nordic Group for Public Health Preparedness (the Svalbard Group). Cooperation between our foreign ministers and our foreign services on foreign policy issues is also vital when a crisis strikes.

Since 2009, Nordic collaboration on civil protection and emergency preparedness has taken place under the Haga cooperation. The aims are to reduce the vulnerability of the participating countries, strengthen common response capacity and the effectiveness of crisis response, and enable the Nordic countries to exert greater influence in international forums. In 2020, Nordic civil-military cooperation was established between the Haga cooperation and NORDEFCO.

The Nordic countries have developed a joint ‘Nordic roadmap’ under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). This ensures that the Nordic countries have an overview of resources and capabilities that are available in the region and that the Nordic countries can draw on.

Mr President,

I would like to give a concrete example of successful Nordic cooperation. In summer 2018, the Nordic region was hit by severe forest fires, and it was clear that we needed to help each other. Norway therefore assisted in the efforts to extinguish the fires in Sweden. We must be prepared for the fact that this will happen again. That is why since 2019, we have held joint Nordic and Nordic-Baltic meetings in the lead-up to the summer season to ensure that we are well prepared and have a good overview of needs and response capacity.

Mr President,

Health preparedness has long been an important component of Nordic cooperation. It is also a key priority during Norway’s Presidency. However, it will not be possible to work to strengthen Nordic health preparedness without considering European cooperation in this area.

For our Nordic neighbours – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – health preparedness is being developed within the framework of the EU. We must acknowledge this. The Government is therefore seeking to enable Norway to participate in EU cooperation on health preparedness and crisis response. Together, the Nordic countries have a great deal to offer in this area, not least experience gained from our operational cooperation involving joint exercises, shared situational awareness and assistance in crisis situations. The nuclear preparedness exercise Arctic REIHN is a good example. The exercise was supposed to take place in Bodø in May, but has now been postponed due to the situation in Ukraine.

The past two years have shown us the importance of trying to keep borders open and trade flowing, including in times of crisis. Security of supply has long been a priority area. In 2005, Norway and Finland entered into an agreement on maintaining the exchange of goods and services between our two countries in situations of war and crisis. Norway and Finland are now seeking to sign similar agreements with other Nordic countries.

Medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are often mentioned in this context. But foodstuffs, fuel and industrial products are also vital. The food production sector encompasses a range of different value chains. Many of them are long and complicated. The Nordic countries are in very different situations when it comes to food production and trade, but in one way or another, they will all be dependent on production inputs and finished goods from other countries. We are facing a range of common problems in the region, and together, we can find common solutions to them. Finland, Sweden and Norway are already in the initial stages of a joint project on access to packaging in the food sector under the framework of the Critical Nordic Flows collaboration.

Mr President,

The Nordic governments have agreed to seek to strengthen cooperation in the area of crisis preparedness and response. But this must be done within existing frameworks, and responsibility must lie with the relevant ministries and authorities. The Ministers for Nordic Cooperation have overall responsibility for coordinating the efforts of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Cooperation in times of crisis was one of the main items on the agenda at our meeting in February, the first meeting held under Norway’s Presidency.

One of the proposals submitted for consideration by the Nordic governments worth mentioning here is the possibility of developing a system for ensuring even better and more systematic communication between our countries when a crisis situation arises. The proposal involves the establishment of a separate network for such communication, which could also entail more formalised procedures. It is not yet clear which solutions will be chosen; this will be discussed in more detail with all relevant parties.

Problems relating to cross-border mobility in situations where it is necessary to introduce border restrictions are another issue warranting particular attention. Here too, various proposals have been put forward. These address both practical considerations relating to the right of entry and problems that may arise with regard to taxation and social security rights. It is too early to say which solutions will be possible and/or necessary. But we will do what we can to ensure an open, in-depth discussion of the proposals that have been submitted as well as of any new proposals, for example from the Freedom of Movement Council.

A study on security of supply and preparedness, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, will be presented before the summer. We will follow this up with discussions on the proposals and recommendations contained in the study.

Further strengthening Nordic health preparedness cooperation was high on the agenda at the meeting of the Nordic health ministers in Stavanger last week. The health ministers signed a joint declaration on strengthening health preparedness and resilience. Planned measures include: establishing a mechanism for sharing situational awareness; enhancing the effectiveness of assistance in the event of an incident or crisis; and developing infrastructure for the exchange of health data.

The Ministers for Nordic Cooperation will follow efforts relating to all these issues closely, to ensure that they are seen in conjunction with one another and to promote an integrated approach. The aim is to report on all these issues to the Nordic prime ministers and the Nordic Council in the autumn.

I would also like to add that we are now issuing calls for proposals for research projects on societal security in the Nordic region through NordForsk. These research efforts will also help to better equip us to deal with future challenges.

Mr President,

Vision 2030 is the Nordic countries’ joint vision for how the Nordic region will address climate and environmental challenges and promote the green transition. We must redouble our efforts and ensure the broad involvement of public and private institutions and all segments of society if we are to achieve the emission reduction targets. During Norway’s Presidency, we are working to strengthen Nordic climate cooperation and identify and implement targeted initiatives that will enable the Nordic region to lead the way in the green transition.

The Nordic countries are working closely together, in cooperation with the EU and other European countries, to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Nordic cooperation in this area involves expert collaboration in vital fields such as emission reductions and policy instruments, climate change adaptation, and provision of climate finance in other countries.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, agreed on at COP26, clearly sets out the need to work to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to well below 2°C and strive to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Nordic climate and environment ministers played an important role in securing agreement on the Glasgow Pact and also facilitated key aspects of the negotiations. Promoting broad-based dialogue between various stakeholders was an important element of the programme for the Nordic pavilion at COP26. Young people from the Nordic region played an active part, and among other things, presented the Nordic Youth Position Paper on Biodiversity.

Nordic cooperation on research and education will continue to be vital in the years ahead to provide the Nordic region with the latest knowledge about the implications of the green transition for the Nordic countries. In 2022, for example, funding for research related to the green transition is being announced through NordForsk, as a supplement to research conducted at the national level.

Another priority area under Norway’s Presidency is the connection between climate and nature. We have initiated a four-year Nordic programme on nature-based solutions, i.e. how we can address challenges relating to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation and loss of biodiversity by drawing on natural features, processes and ecosystems. The project seeks to promote greater use of nature-based solutions in the Nordic countries, knowledge sharing, and the integration of nature-based solutions into social development planning.

Mr President,

Nordic energy cooperation is in line with the overarching vision of Nordic cooperation. A new programme to promote cooperation on energy policy for 2022–2024 has been adopted. There is agreement on further developing the common Nordic electricity market. Common challenges within the EU/EEA, including energy challenges under the European Green Deal, are high on the agenda. Constructive cooperation has also been established on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). There is agreement to expand Nordic cooperation on energy-related research, and further develop Nordic Energy Research as an effective instrument for Nordic energy cooperation.

Mr President,

The Nordic countries are at the forefront when it comes to sustainable management of ocean and sea areas. The High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) has highlighted the importance of the oceans and restructuring in the ocean industries for achieving the climate targets. There are many areas where the Nordic countries can spearhead essential restructuring such as offshore wind power, the decarbonisation of shipping, nature-based solutions and sustainable fisheries.

During our Presidency, Norway will work to strengthen Nordic efforts to promote sustainable ocean management and improve understanding of the links between ocean management and climate change, in the Skagerrak among other places.

This ties in with our cooperation with the Nordic countries to encourage the launch of negotiations on a global convention against plastic pollution. The Nordic countries have played a leading role in this context. In early March, at the Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly, under the leadership of Minister of Climate and Environment Espen Barth Eide, the world’s nations committed to developing a legally binding global agreement against plastic pollution.

Mr President,

Green shipping is another priority area for Norway’s Presidency. The Nordic region is well positioned to assume a leadership role in the work to make zero-emission shipping a reality. At Norway’s initiative, funding has been allocated under Vision 2030 for the development of a roadmap to zero-emission fuel in the shipping sector in the Nordic countries.

When the Nordic Council of Ministers for the Environment and Climate convene on 3 May, they plan to endorse a declaration on increased cooperation and specific initiatives aimed at establishing zero-emission shipping routes in the Nordic countries. This will begin with intra-Nordic ferry transport and other particularly suitable routes.

Mr President,

Knowledge and research on the links between gender equality and climate policy are important for policy development in the Nordic countries. In autumn 2021, the Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality and LGBTI committed to implementing a multi-year initiative to ensure that gender equality perspectives are addressed in climate-related efforts under the UN Women initiative Generation Equality, which is a framework for broad-based, cross-sectoral international cooperation in the area of gender equality.

In January, a Nordic roundtable discussion on gender equality and climate justice was convened in Oslo, organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality and LGBTI, UN Women and the Forum for Women and Development (FOKUS). This discussion provided important input to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2022, where Norway presented a joint Nordic declaration committing the Nordic Council of Ministers to make gender equality an integral part of its climate action.

Mr President,

If we are to succeed in achieving our ambitions regarding Nordic integration, we need to provide an effective framework to enable the public, civil society, and particularly children and young people to participate in the various processes. The establishment of a Nordic civil society network last year was an important step in this regard. The network comprises 40 organisations and will be a key partner and guide in the efforts to realise Vision 2030.

Mr President,

The Nordic welfare model is well known as part of the Nordic brand. But we know that the pandemic has had an uneven impact and there have been major ramifications for working life and society. We also know that the pandemic has affected the common Nordic labour market. What this means in the long term remains to be seen. There is no doubt that cooperation on building a socially sustainable Nordic region is more important than ever.

The comprehensive infection control measures introduced during the pandemic created challenges for many children and young people. There is a need for more research and knowledge about the long-term effects on children and young people of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed.

To ensure social sustainability and maintain the welfare state in the years ahead, we must increase participation in the workforce. This is a fundamental challenge all the Nordic countries are facing. A large-scale research programme has been initiated on how to increase workforce participation among vulnerable groups such as young people, immigrants, older job seekers and people with health issues. At the Nordic health ministers’ meeting on social health policy in late March, there were discussions on the most effective measures for increasing the participation of young people in the workforce, education and society. The pandemic’s impacts on vulnerable children and young people will also be a main topic at the Nordic conference this autumn, which will be held under the auspices of the Research Council of Norway, NordForsk and the Norwegian Presidency.

The exchange of knowledge and experience regarding the inclusion of young people with immigrant backgrounds in society will be discussed at a number of Nordic conferences this year. Negative social control and honour-related violence will also be on the agenda at an informal meeting of ministers in the autumn. These are factors that prevent young people from participating in society on an equal footing with others.

Mr President,

Continuing cooperation in the areas of language and culture is important for achieving the Vision 2030 goal of a socially sustainable Nordic region. Freedom of expression, diversity and indigenous culture are key priority areas during Norway’s Presidency.

Art, culture and media build bridges between people and play a vital role in the development of our common Nordic identity. The Nordic languages are a connecting force at the core of our shared Nordic cultural community.

A number of initiatives are being planned during Norway’s Presidency. This autumn, Norway will host a Nordic conference on the influence of the technology giants on the discourse in democratic societies and on edited news media. This is particularly important at a time when free media are under pressure and ‘fake news’ is a pervasive problem.

Norway’s Presidency will also actively support two important cultural events to take place in Canada in 2022. One is Nordic Bridges, a major Nordic initiative across five Canadian cities throughout the year. The other is the Arctic Arts Summit, which will be held in Yukon, Canada, in June.

Mr President,

To become a truly integrated region, the Nordic countries must implement interoperable, cross-border digital solutions. The Nordic Council of Ministers for Digitalisation brings together the Nordic and Baltic countries to strengthen digital cooperation. Good digital infrastructure is also crucial to promote a competitive Nordic region. Our aim is for the Nordic countries to become a leading region in the development and use of 5G. To achieve this, a tool to measure and track the progress of 5G expansion is being developed.

The Cross Border Digital Services Programme, which aims to accelerate the digital transformation in the Nordic-Baltic region, is another important initiative. The Nordic Baltic eID Project, led by Norway, is working to enable Nordic and Baltic users to access other countries’ digital services using their own national eID. Other projects include data sharing across borders and cross-border services for studying abroad.

Technological development and digitalisation help to make services and workplaces less tied to a specific location. During the pandemic, we have gained a great deal of experience with remote work in the private and public sectors alike. New patterns are emerging in the Nordic countries with more people moving out of the large urban areas. More flexible working arrangements may make it easier for outlying districts to attract more people – as ‘full-time’ or ‘part-time’ residents.

The Nordic Council of Ministers for Regional Development has launched three projects to study how digitalisation and multilocality affect the attractiveness and competitiveness of cities. The projects are also intended to shed light on structures and measures that can promote the development of Nordic urban and non-urban areas.

Mr President,

The transport sector will play a pivotal role in our efforts to create a green, competitive Nordic region.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of transport between our countries. When entry restrictions were in place, it was essential to ensure the best possible flow of goods to and from Norway. Close and frequent contact between the Nordic authorities enabled us to solve the problems that arose.

During Norway’s Presidency, we will work to strengthen Nordic cooperation on transport. Relevant topics include management of Nordic airspace, green transport solutions, and social dumping in the transport sector.

The transport sector is an area where Nordic cooperation offers genuine added value. The Norwegian Presidency is therefore working to further develop Nordic cooperation on transport, and will in the course of this year address the issue of re-establishing the Nordic Council of Ministers for Transport. This issue is also high on the agenda of the Nordic Council.

Mr President,

The main focus of this address is the work being carried out under the Norwegian Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. I would also like to mention a few other Nordic cooperation platforms that Norway is chairing this year. These forums are crucial in the current situation when there is a major war in Europe.

Last week, Foreign Minister Huitfeldt gave her annual foreign policy address to the Storting. This highlighted the many complex foreign policy issues we are dealing with, but naturally much of it was devoted to the war in Ukraine. As the Foreign Minister pointed out, it is vital that we stand together with our Nordic and European partners.

This year, Norway, represented by the Norwegian Foreign Minister, is chairing the Nordic N5 cooperation on foreign and security policy. This is an important forum for open and frank dialogue that cuts across different international affiliations and alliances. It is an arena where the Nordic countries can reach agreement on common positions on a wide range of foreign policy issues.

Mr President,

Nordic cooperation in the area of security and defence policy is a key priority for the Government, in line with the Government’s political platform. The Nordic countries have a long tradition of defence cooperation, and the various cooperation activities are now integrated under the NORDEFCO structure. This year, Norway, represented by the Norwegian Minister of Defence, holds the chairmanship of NORDEFCO, as well as of the Nordic-Baltic defence cooperation and the Northern Group.

Nordic cooperation on military exercises and training is extensive. Furthermore, work is under way on a number of agreements that will make practical cooperation between the countries easier. This includes arrangements relating to military mobility across national borders in the Nordic region and the exchange of radar data. Total defence is another priority area for the Norwegian Presidency. Efforts to expand civil-military cooperation and exercises in the Nordic region have begun.

A good example of effective cooperation under NORDEFCO is the joint procurement of combat uniforms. A contract for the delivery of the Nordic Combat Uniform system, with a value of approximately NOK 4.5 billion, was signed in February. This is a significant step forward and illustrates the potential that lies in joint Nordic procurement, not just in the defence sector.

Mr President,

Nordic cooperation is dynamic. It develops in line with changing needs in society and ongoing developments. New priority areas, new circumstances and new challenges require new approaches.

If we are to realise Vision 2030, we must set priorities. Even in the current extraordinary situation, we must continue to work towards achieving our three strategic priorities for Nordic cooperation: a green Nordic region, a competitive Nordic region and a socially sustainable Nordic region.

Mr President,

This is a very dark time for Europe. We are witnessing hostilities on a scale not seen since the Second World War. According to UN estimates, some 10 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Two of the Nordic countries share a border with the aggressor country responsible for the tragedy we are seeing in Ukraine. Despite differences in geopolitical alignment, the Nordic countries are all affected by this evolving crisis. It is worth bearing in mind here that the right of independent states to choose their own alliances and partners is one of the fundamental principles being defended in Ukraine.

No one can predict how this will end. The Nordic countries are maintaining close contact within various EU formats where the many major, complex issues arising as a result of the war are considered on an ongoing basis. Together, the Nordic countries stand ready to help the millions of people in Ukraine who have been forced to flee because of Russia’s brutal war. Our robust welfare-based societies are well equipped to take in refugees and give them protection.

Mr President,

The Nordic countries stand united in condemning Russia’s aggression, and we stand united in defending the values that underpin our Nordic community.

Thank you.