The step by step growth of cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic countries

18.12.2018 ISSUE # 4
Anders Ljunggren:

Denna artikel är publicerad i årets sista nummer av Baltic RIM Economies BRE, Review. Steg för steg är de baltiska länderna, särskilt Estland, allt närmare integrerade med de nordiska länderna.

In 2019, the Norden Associations celebrate their 100th anniversaries. Founded after the First World War, the project was spearheaded by national organizations in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. An important impetus to their formation was the experience of obstacles to foreign trade during the war, to a large extent resulting from the blockades imposed by the warring parties.

The Norden Associations were created as national membership organizations, with a large number of local groups. Considerable support was given by private interests, as well as from leading officials in the governmental and educational sectors. Networks were created between vocational groups, schools, libraries and other cultural institutions. This can be described as foreign policy from below.

Immediately following the war the states on the eastern side of the Baltic Sea were struggling to secure their independence. Relative stability was not achieved until the peace treaty in Dorpat (Tartu) in 1920. In Finland a sister organization was created in 1924, PohjolaNorden. The orientation of Finland towards the Nordic countries was not a foregone conclusion, however. Foreign Minister Rudolf Holsti was forced to resign in 1922 following the refusal of the Finnish Parliament to ratify the so called Warsaw Accord with Poland, Latvia and Estonia. It was not until the fifth of December 1935 that the Finnish Parliament proclaimed its orientation toward the Nordic countries, a short while after the Swedish Defence Commission, a forum for consultation between the Swedish Government and Parliament, announced strenghtened efforts in the area of defence.

The interest for the three newly independent Baltic states remained limited. When Estonian politicans requested support from Stockholm they were not met with a positive response.

Finland could secure its independence following the Second World War. This required large sacrifices in the form of human lives and loss of territory. But this preserved independence became crucial for the possiblity of Finland to opt for membership in the Nordic Council, and later in the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The increased cooperation between Nordic states, with the formation of the Nordic Council in 1952 as a notable example, is to a large degree the result of the Cold War. Norway, Denmark and Iceland opted for NATO membership. Sweden officially considered itself a neutral and non-aligned country, while Finland sought to conduct a policy of neutrality while adhering to the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948. The Nordic Council became an important factor in the strenghtening of the ties between the countries.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia lost their independence during the Second World War, and were occupied by the Soviet Union. Falling behind the Iron Curtain, Poland effectively lost its ability to conduct an independent foreign policy.

Cooperation between the Nordic countries deepened during the remaining years of the Soviet Union. But already before its dissolvement, the Nordic countries had taken initiatives to prepare for closer cooperation with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Nordic information offices could be established preceding the regaining of independence in the three states. The Nordic Council, under the lead of influential politicians such as the former Danish Prime Minister Anker Jørgensen, and former Swedish foreign minister Karin Söder, were able to visit the Baltic states before the collapse of the USSR, and assure them of their support.

The question of inclusion of the three Baltic states into the Nordic Council was discussed in the early 1990s, but did not win support. The cooperation has in fact deepened, however, both between the three Baltic states, and between them and the Nordic countries. A rather comprehensive platform of cooperation has been established between the Nordic and Baltic states under the so called Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) format.

In 1992 the Nordic Investment Bank instituted the Baltic Investment Programme. In the middle of the 1990s a special loan facility was created for investment in environmental projects. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became full members of the bank in 2005.

The educational exchange programme of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Nordplus, also includes the three Baltic states. As a Swedish ambassador to Estonia, I noticed how actors in the country increasingly took part in institutions belonging to the Nordic Council of Ministers, for example the research collaboration project NordForsk. In 2018 Estonia applied for full membership in one of the premier Nordic cooperation institutions, Nordisk Film & TV Fond.

The latter is the result of a prioritization by the Swedish chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, in trying to gauge the further interest of increased participation in Nordic projects and institutions. In a short term perspective, Estonia’s application for membership in Nordisk Film & TV Fond is a clear outcome of this attempt.

One area that could increase the possiblity of further integration between the Nordic and Baltic countries is the creation of a digital Nordic-Baltic citizenship. If a citizen in one country is able to get their citizenship services online, this would offer citizens in the other Nordic-Baltic states the same possibility in that other country.

At the meeting of the Nordic Council recently the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven suggested that the Nordic-Baltic region should strive to become world leaders in the introduction of 5G technology. It is by such practical work that the Nordic and Baltic countries can be brought closer together, step by step.

Expert article • 2446

Anders Ljunggren

Former Swedish Ambassador in Tallinn and in Reykjavik


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