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A BRITANNIC COUNCIL RECOMMENDED

Nordic Council could be a model for creating a "Britannic Council" which could work towards solving conflicts between various communities in the UK and Ireland. This idea is developed by Simon Partridge, a member of New Dialogue, the British-Irish peace group. Partridge wants "to reach for an ‘imagined community’" -- to borrow Benedict Anderson's term, which he used so fruitfully in his study of the origins of nations and nationalism in medieval Europe -- "of Britishness which is as inclusive and uncontroversial as being Scandinavian now is..."

Partridge points out that the peoples of the Scandinavian peninsula have established peaceful relations after centuries of enmity.

"Our situation is now very similar to the peoples of the Scandinavian peninsula, who also fought and occupied each other for centuries, but who have now buried the hatchet for good. Indeed, there is a political institution there which embodies this reconciliation, and which we might well study and emulate: the inter-governmental/ministerial ´Nordic Council´. The Council was first established in 1953 as a body of parliamentarians and now brings together five nation-states and three autonomous regions: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and the Faeroe Islands, Greenland and the Aland Islands. The latter may be of particular relevance since it is a Swedish-speaking area, completely demilitarised, but within the Finnish state (where there is also a substantial Swedish-speaking minority will full parity of treatment with the Finnish speaking majority). The parallels with Northern Ireland are obvious. The council advises the Nordic parliaments on questions needing their co-operation and co-decision-making within the objectives laid down in the Helsinki Treaty of 1962. In 1971 a Council of Ministers was added which has certain decision-making powers within the Treaty. All decisions are made unanimously, although a country or autonomous region can abstain from voting.

"The establishment of a similar institution in these islands should, in theory, be a simpler matter, since they are more geographically compact and more culturally homogenous, and share a common language in English. Indeed, such a ´Britannic Council´ could grow out of the existing standing Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (established by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985) with a widened remit and the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body of MPs (established in February 1990) and, like the Nordic Council, it should be established by a new British-Irish Treaty."

Simon Partridge: Beyond Nationalism in These Islands, obtainable from 27 Beresford Road, London N2 8AT.

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