Nordic Day: Cooperating across closed borders

Today is Nordic Day, and the Nordic Council of Ministers is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It is a day worth celebrating, Minister for Nordic Co-operation Jan Tore Sanner and the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide write.

Had it been possible, we would have met face-to-face in an enormous family reunion. Because in many ways the Nordic countries are a family. Bound together by our history, language, geography, values and interests. And perhaps most of all: by our trust in one another. And our support for each other when times are tough.

We saw a typical example of Nordic solidarity in the difficult days after the quick-clay landslide in Gjerdrum at the end of December 2020. All the Nordic countries offered their assistance in the wake of the disaster. Sweden rapidly provided a search and rescue team. This shows that our close-knit, cross-border cooperation continues to work, even in the middle of a pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed enormous challenges to all countries across the world, including in the Nordic region. We are all facing a crisis of a magnitude that none of us could foresee. We have each chosen somewhat different infection control strategies, but throughout the crisis we have been in close contact with each other and provided help where we can. Our deep trust in one another and our long tradition of collaboration have served us well. We have had a record number of meetings, particularly on issues relating to foreign affairs and health. Norway has been able to procure vaccines thanks to assistance from Sweden in cooperation with the EU. The Nordic countries worked together to bring our citizens home when the pandemic broke out. We shared the task among ourselves, dividing up the locations with few or no opportunities for people to travel home. Nordic aircraft were filled with Nordic passengers. Norway has also provided Sweden with personal protective equipment and opened up to accept Swedish burn patients to relieve the burden on Swedish ICU capacity. That is how the Nordic community works together.

At the same time, the infection control measures we have implemented have unquestionably entailed problems for Nordic integration. They have had a severe impact on individuals and companies. Before the crisis, we took it for granted that we could travel freely between our countries. But this year, the year we celebrate 50 years of Nordic cooperation, we find ourselves forced to maintain strict travel restrictions between our countries. We are pleased there is now a scheme in place for day commuters who live in the border areas of Sweden and Finland. They are able to come back to work in Norway under a strict testing and monitoring regime. In addition, we have proposed a financial compensation scheme for foreign workers who have been prevented from coming to Norway to work due to entry restrictions. This will ease the situation for many of our Nordic friends who commute back and forth to jobs in Norway.

Open borders and free movement have been a key feature of the Nordic region. We will reclaim these freedoms as soon as infection prevention and control measures allow it. But in the short term, the quickest way back to a more integrated Nordic region is to stop the spread of infection, so that we can gradually open up our borders again. The vision of the Nordic prime ministers is to make the Nordic region the most sustainable, integrated region in the world by 2030. Nordic cooperation is to be expanded and strengthened precisely because it brings us so many advantages. From passport union to a common labour market. From student exchanges to a shared energy market. From eco-labelling to a joint seed bank on Svalbard. And looking forward: to a common Nordic electronic ID that will help to simplify our daily lives.

The Nordic countries also collaborate closely in the international arena. The Nordic Nato members provide assistance to Sweden and Finland in contacts with Nato, and the Nordic EU members help those of us who are not part of the EU. The Nordic countries provide crucial support to the UN. Our countries work together to ensure that a Nordic voice is heard in the UN Security Council on a rotating basis. That is why we support each other, and take turns seeking election to the Security Council every four years. This enables us to promote Nordic values in the work of the Security Council. Sweden shared its experience from the Council with us in Norway, just as we are helping Denmark to seek election after us. Nordic cooperation and Nordic values are becoming increasingly more relevant, and the focus of increasing attention, in a world where climate change is emerging as a growing threat, a world where human rights are being blatantly violated, and where the international rule of law and multilateral structures are coming under pressure. These are also the areas in which the Nordic countries see eye to eye; we all give priority to climate issues, human rights, free trade and international cooperation.

Friends and families help each other out. We intend to continue doing just that. The Nordic family tree has deep roots – and those roots are stronger than the pandemic. Congratulations on Nordic Day and this special anniversary.

Norge har også bistått Sverige med smittevernutstyr og åpnet for mottak av svenske pasienter med brannskader for å avlaste den svenske helsetjenestens intensivkapasitet. Dette vitner om nordisk solidaritet.

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(Minister of Finance Jan Tore Sanner also is Minister for Nordic Co-operation).