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Nordic Cooperation, the Scottish Parliament and COP26

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As discussed in SPICe’s Key Issues for Session 6 briefing, the Scottish Government is likely to seek strengthened relationships with the Nordic countries during the next five years.  This is demonstrated by the Scottish Government’s commitment to open a new international office in Copenhagen and the First Minister’s recent attendance at the Arctic Circle meeting.

The Scottish Parliament is also strengthening its partnerships with counterparts in the Nordic countries.  A key element of this new relationship is the joint Scottish Parliament and Nordic Council event at COP26 on Code Red for Parliaments – vital institutions in the climate emergency

Ahead of the joint event on 10 November, this blog examines how the Nordic countries cooperate, their priorities in relation to climate change and sustainability and the Scottish Parliament’s developing relationship with the Nordic Council.

Nordic cooperation

Nordic cooperation takes place between Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, with the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Aland Islands also participating.

The two key forums for cooperation are the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The Nordic Council

The Nordic Council is the forum for interparliamentary Nordic cooperation.  It consists of 87 elected members. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden each have 20 members. Of these, two of the Danish representatives are from the Faroe Islands and two are from Greenland, while Finland has two representatives from Åland. Iceland has seven members. 

The members of the Council are members of their respective national parliaments and are nominated by the party groups. There is no procedure for direct election to the Nordic Council.

The Nordic Council, which is run by a Presidium providing the political leadership, comes together at two annual meetings – the Ordinary Session and the Theme Session, at which the Nordic politicians make decisions on issues that they call on the Nordic governments to implement.

The President, Vice-President, and members of the Presidium for the forthcoming year are elected at the Ordinary Session every autumn. The Presidency alternates between the countries. The Ordinary Session is held in the country holding the presidency of the Nordic Council. The Theme Session is held every spring in the country holding the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

During 2021, the Presidency is held by Denmark.  The Presidency is focussing on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and on the removal of barriers to cross-border freedom of movement in the Nordic Region. The priorities for the Presidency are:

  • Nordic co-operation on defence and contingency planning
  • the climate
  • tourism
  • culture and language initiatives by and for young people.

On the climate, the Danish Presidency programme highlighted the need for Nordic cooperation and leadership:

“The Nordic countries are known for strong climate political leadership and green solutions. Climate change calls for scientific cooperation and investments in green transition and innovation, for both of which the Nordic countries are uniquely well equipped – with focus on the significance and repercussions of climate change for the human population and for commerce, transportation, fisheries, construction, forestry, animal life, etc.

The climate crisis is not only an economic challenge, but also an opportunity for us to market Nordic solutions across the globe. Nordic climate initiatives should also lead to a joint Nordic climate strategy.”

The most recent meeting of the Nordic Council’s Ordinary Session took place in Copenhagen from 1-4 November 2021.  Whilst the meeting’s sessions with the Nordic Prime Ministers focussed on “what the Nordic Region can learn from the coronavirus crisis, and how can co-operation be strengthened going forward?”, a number of sessions focussed on other areas of Nordic cooperation.  These included security, welfare, growth and development and a sustainable Nordic region.  The meeting also heard from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 

Nordic Council of Ministers

The Nordic Council of Ministers is the official body for inter-governmental co-operation in the Nordic Region. It seeks Nordic solutions wherever and whenever the countries can achieve more together than by working on their own.

The Nordic Council of Ministers was founded in 1971 and, despite its name, it actually consists of several individual councils of ministers. Nordic ministers for specific policy areas meet in their respective council of ministers formats a couple of times a year. There are currently 10 configurations for specific policy areas. Decisions in all of the formats must be unanimous.

The Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which is held for a period of one year, rotates between the five Nordic countries. The country holding the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers draws up a programme to guide Nordic co-operation during the year.  This year the Presidency is held by Finland

In August 2019, Nordic prime ministers unveiled their vision for Nordic cooperation with the aim of making the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. The work of the Nordic Council of Ministers will seek to drive this ambition forward.  The current Finnish Government has identified this ambition as a key priority for its Presidency:

“The commitment to implement the Nordic prime ministers’ vision of a sustainable and integrated Nordic region by 2030 remains strong. The presidency programme reflects the three priorities of the vision: a green Nordic region, a competitive Nordic region and a socially sustainable Nordic region. The two key words of the vision – sustainability and integration – run through the chapters, while the presidency projects address the current challenges in order to support the objectives of the vision and promote practical, shared Nordic solutions.”

On 3 November 2021, Nordic ministers’ attention turned to COP26 as they met to agree a unified Nordic position ahead of the second week of negotiations in Glasgow:

“The ministers revisited their common basis for negotiation and discussed how the Nordic countries can jointly contribute to an ambitious outcome at COP26. The discussion was led by Sweden’s Minister for Environment and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister, Per Bolund.

The Nordic Council of Ministers will be present at the climate negotiations, with the Nordic Pavilion serving as a hub for a range of activities centred around Nordic co-operation on the environment and climate. One example is the event on the mobilisation of private climate investments, which is a follow-up to an initiative of the Nordic ministers for the environment and climate back in 2020.”

Scottish Parliament’s relationships with the Nordic countries

Over the last three years, the Scottish Parliament has sought to develop longer term, more ‘one-to-one’ relationships and friendships with other parliaments and international organisations. This is all based around shared interests in procedural, corporate, and crucially, policy interests. Such relationships can provide an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to exchange its knowledge, skills and expertise with other parliamentarians and officials where there are continued areas of common interest, generate new ideas and approaches, and strengthen international links. The work of the Scottish Parliament continues to draw interest from other legislatures and organisations across the world, which has led to more specific discussions taking place.

In January 2020, the Parliament hosted a delegation of the then President and Vice President of the Nordic Council. Further discussions took place virtually and earlier this year there was an opportunity for both the Parliament and the Nordic Council to collaborate around COP26. This week’s Code Red for Parliament’s event in Glasgow is the first opportunity for both the Scottish Parliament and the Nordic Council to work together on a key policy area of mutual interest.

Iain McIver, SPICe Research