May 2001

Nordic countries step up co-operation

There are signs that like-minded EU member countries are intensifying their co-operation. The Nordic countries' intention to do likewise has triggered some comments about the feasibility of this approach. One sceptical commentator recalled that in the past, when a question of intensifying integration came up, the Danes said "no", the Finns said "yes", and the Swedes said "don't know".

Be that as may, Sweden, who currently holds the EU Presidency, has promised closer co-operation between Nordic countries. The intention is to hold regular meetings on the eve of EU summits. Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson admitted in an interview in Helsingin Sanomat (22 May 2001) that the countries' co-operation so far has been poor.

"We have lost a lot when we haven't discussed matters sufficiently", Persson said.

In a leading article, Helsingin Sanomat (23 May 2001) says that too often the Nordic countries have surprised each other with their views, even with their deeds. This seems strange since Nordic Prime Ministers meet a lot, not only inside the EU.

"It does not suffice to offer as an explanation that Finland, Sweden and Denmark have to some extent dissimilar basic attitudes towards co-operation in the EU. There is no need to deny these differences. It must not be allowed to become a hindrance to communication between the countries and especially the Prime MInisters. Such communication would be in the spirit of a long Nordic tradition.

"Right from the start, the Nordic countries have been wary of others accusing them of creating a Nordic bloc. Co-operation between like-minded countries is common and getting even more usual in the Union. The three Nordic countries have good reason and good prerequisites to seek common lines, more often than in the past."

The Swedish-language daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (23 May 2001) reminds readers that only Finland has joined the euro, whilst Denmark as a NATO member is sceptical about EU defence co-operation. The paper says that these are only the most flagrant examples.

"As to future visions, only Finland — or rather its government and, more precisely, the Prime Minister — has chosen the way that tends to be called federalism. Sweden and especially Denmark are clearly more careful."

The editor of Helsingin Sanomat, Janne Virkkunen, writes in his column (27 May 2001) that the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson is into developing inter-governmental co-operation, whilst his Finnish colleague, Paavo Lipponen, defends EU institutions. Virkkunen quotes from Lipponen's new book:

"Our starting point is that communitarianism is in a small country's interests. Among EU institutions, the Commission most clearly represents the Union's viewpoint which means objectivity and equal footing for a small country."

In his book, Lipponen strongly recommends intensifying Nordic co-operation and expresses a wish for Norway and Iceland to join the EU soon. According to Lipponen, the importance of a co-operative bloc only grows when the Baltic countries join the EU in the future.

Virkkunen writes that when Poland and other Central European countries join the EU, the Union's current balance will change. For small countries like Finland, this means the weakening of their influence. This is another reason to seek necessary models for Nordic co-operation. A Nordic bloc could also in the future form a counter-balance to the Mediterranean area. This, according to Virkkunen, requires practical achievements, not only theoretical speeches.

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