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The value of Nordic collaboration in a changing world

Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen's address at the conference «Global Challenges – Nordic experiences» 21 March.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It's an honour for me to be with you here today.

And thank you to the University of Oslo for hosting this important event.

Research and innovation are key to unlocking the great potential for green growth and sustainable development – for our societies, for our environment and for our economies.

This conference shows that connecting strong research communities from different disciplines brings about new knowledge and new perspectives. It leads to new opportunities and innovative solutions to some of the major challenges facing the world we live in.
The world is changing – and the Nordic region with it. Climate change, aging populations, migration and the need for major economic and environmental restructuring are some of the trends affecting our societies and our way of life. These trends are accelerating, and our world is growing increasingly interconnected and volatile.

What does this mean? It means that the future will not be 'business as usual'. Future growth must take place within the boundaries of the planet. The choices we make today will affect both our own and future generations. The greatest risk is that we will be too slow to adapt to the changes in the world around us, to new technology, economic developments and changing demographics.

The upside is that research and innovation have already given us many of the tools we need to manage the transition in a successful manner.

During our Presidency, we want to improve the Nordic region's ability to respond to the changes and manage the risks we are faced with.

For the next couple of minutes I will take you through the three pillars of the Norwegian Presidency programme - the Nordic Region in Transition, the Nordic Region in Europe, and the Nordic Region in the World.

Through the Nordic Region in Transition pillar we will be promoting competitiveness in the transition to a green, low-carbon economy.

There is a strong push towards transition in the Nordic region. Fortunately we have a good starting point.

  • Our countries top international rankings for welfare and quality of life.
  • Levels of optimism about the future are high.
  • The Nordic model of high employment, mutual trust between unions and employers, and a well-developed welfare state has proved robust and adaptable in the face of globalisation.
  • Our region is also one of the most highly skilled, innovative and attractive regions in the world.
  • Collectively the Nordic economy ranks 11th in the world. And it is one of the best integrated.
  • The Nordic countries are one another's main trading partners, we work together on research and innovation, and we enjoy a high degree of mobility in the Nordic labour market and education sector.

In short, we are well positioned to make a successful transition. However, we need to work even more closely together to promote even greater freedom of movement. And we need to intensify efforts to prevent and remove existing obstacles to Nordic growth.

Further strengthening our collaboration on education, research and innovation will allow us to develop our comparative advantages, and ensure that the Nordic region plays a key role in the global transition to a green economy. We will pioneer new ways of responding to demographic changes in age, health and the way we integrate and include immigrants.

A number of initiatives and projects have been initiated to strengthen Nordic collaboration in the green transition.

  • In January, six new green growth projects were approved for funding under the Nordic Green Growth Research and Innovation Programme. The programme, which is administered by NordForsk, Nordic Innovation and Nordic Energy Research, will seek to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable Nordic society.
  • A strategic review of the environmental sector is underway to consider the potential for closer cooperation between the Nordic countries on climate and environmental issues.
  • Urbanisation is one of the key challenges the Nordic region faces in its transition to a green economy. We have therefore initiated a project to look at green transition and competitiveness in Nordic urban regions. The aim is to help make Nordic towns and cities part of the solution to environmental and climate challenges.
  • A well-functioning, dynamic and flexible labour market is crucial if we are to succeed in the transition to a green and low carbon economy. Throughout the Norwegian Presidency we will focus on some of the main challenges facing the Nordic labour markets.
  • One such challenge is the fact that young people with mental health problems tend to be left behind – both in the educational system and in the labour market. The Norwegian Presidency organised a Nordic conference on youth, work, education and mental health in Oslo in February to highlight this issue.
  • A well-functioning labour market also depends on the ability to adapt to new realities. That is why we are organising a conference on the emerging sharing economy and new forms of work in May. We will be looking more closely at the impacts of the sharing economy and modern working life in Nordic contexts.

Most importantly, we will ask the question: Will new forms of work constitute a disruptive change or can they be incorporated into the Nordic model?

Let me also mention that the issue of integration and inclusion is of great importance to the Norwegian Presidency. Ensuring the successful integration and inclusion of new members of Nordic society is not just a basic human responsibility; it is also an economic and social necessity. Next week, we are holding a Nordic conference on the role of culture and the non-profit sector in integration and inclusion.

And in May, we are hosting a Nordic conference on the role of the child day care centres and schools as focal points for integration and democratic citizenship.

In June, we are organising a Nordic conference on the integration of immigrants in the labour market. The backdrop is the high number of asylum seekers and migrants who have arrived in the Nordic countries in recent years and the changes in immigration policy as a result. The conference will examine the integration challenges we are currently facing – both in the Nordics but also in the rest of Europe.


The Nordic Region in Europe pillar is designed to facilitate closer cooperation on European policy.

The Nordic region needs a strong Europe.

And Europe needs a strong Nordic region.

Membership of the EU and the EEA means that the Nordic countries share a fundamental interest in the future of the internal market. Nordic solutions can provide inspiration for EU policy making. For instance in areas such as climate and the environment, energy, and digitisation.

We must ensure that the Nordic region continues to be one of the most integrated and competitive economies in Europe, with a high degree of mobility and cooperation between the individual countries.


Finally, through the Nordic Region in the World pillar we will further develop our foreign policy partnership with a view to meeting global challenges. The Nordic countries have a long history of working together on foreign affairs, and enjoy a good reputation. This means that we are able to exert influence.

Last year, the Nordic Prime Ministers launched a new collaborative programme, Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges, as a direct response to many of the most pressing issues identified in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The programme will promote the development of innovative Nordic solutions in the areas of carbon-neutral development, sustainable cities, food and welfare, and gender equality. In addition, a new sustainable development programme is underway, with focus on implementing the 2030 Agenda through extensive stakeholder engagement.

Events elsewhere in the world reach the Nordic region faster than ever before. Change is more immediate, and the region is best served by strategic commitment to global issues.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we are awaiting the arrival of Iceland's President I'm reminded of something one of his countrymen, the great explorer Leif Erikson, once said.

'We are all leaders – whether we want to be or not. There is always someone we are influencing – either leading them to good – or away from good.'

I believe this is just as true for the Nordic countries.

Because although we may be small in size, we punch above our weight in the international arena. We have both the capacity and the will to lead. And we use our influence to steer global developments in a positive direction. As this conference shows.

Thank you.


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