Speech by Jessika Roswall

Speech by Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall on the Nordic cooperation

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Speech by Minister for EU Affairs, with responsibility for Nordic affairs, Jessika Roswall for the diplomatic corps at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, Monday 5 February.
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Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As my colleague Tobias Billström made clear, Nordic and Nordic-Baltic co-operation is a priority for the Swedish Government. Sweden is firmly convinced that closer Nordic and Nordic-Baltic cooperation is essential for our shared prosperity and resilience. 

We are very fortunate to live in a region with peaceful, democratic neighbors. And now, we must defend that peace and democracy even more forcefully. 

I will speak for a few minutes in two parts – a brief history of our Nordic cooperation, and a look at what we have on the agenda today.

Let me start with the brief history and overview of the Nordic cooperation. It is one of the oldest and most comprehensive types of regional cooperation in the world. 

However, to be honest, as the Foreign Minister has already referred to, it has not always been “smooth sailing.” But over the years, we have developed our cooperation based on strong principles – democracy, the rule of law, equality, freedom of expression and active participation from civil society.

Already in 1872, formal Nordic law meetings were arranged. Legal cooperation was developed over several years, which resulted in the harmonization of laws in many fields. 

This cooperation has gradually become more formalized – and treaty-based. This was especially true between 1950 and 1970, when we took steps to integrate the region and to remove barriers. In particular, we made progress in the areas of free movement, a common labor market, education, language, and social security. 

The Nordic countries can be seen as forerunners to what is now the rights of EU citizens. As a Nordic citizen, you may for instance, live and work in any of the Nordic countries without any official permit. Also, for example, as a Swede, you may study in Finland, under the same terms as Finnish students. 

The Helsinki Treaty from 1962 – “The Nordic Constitution” – formalized the long-standing Nordic collaboration. 

In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the official body for cooperation between the national governments, was established. In practice, it is the ministers for Nordic cooperation – like me – who are responsible for the coordination of the Nordic government cooperation on behalf of the prime ministers.

The Helsinki Treaty does not provide for cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy, but as the Foreign Minister outlined, there are other formats for that. 

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Now, let me say a few words on where we are today and what we have on the agenda. Economic development in the region is a major driver for what we do. We are often each other's most important trading partners and major direct investors in each other's economies. 

For example, about 25 percent of Swedish exports go to our Nordic neighboring countries and about 45,000 people commute across the Nordic borders on a regular basis. 

In 2019, the Nordic Prime Ministers set an ambitious goal for the future of the region and adopted a vision: to be the most integrated and sustainable region in the world by 2030. This vision will guide the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic council of Ministers this year. 

The headline for the presidency program is: “The Nordic Region – Safer, Greener, Freer.” As some of you may recall, this is the same tagline that we used for the Swedish EU presidency. 

Another similarity between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU is the wide range of issues that are being discussed and coordinated among ministers. 

In the Council of Ministers, there are twelve different constellations of ministers dealing with matters ranging from legal cooperation to environment, education, digitalization, and rural and urban development. In addition the are informal formats of cooperation among Nordic Ministers, for instance in the field of transport. 

During the Swedish presidency in the Council of Ministers, we will focus om measures to improve cross-border mobility and integration. We will also continue efforts to make sure that the Nordic region remains a global leader in the green transition, while being competitive and socially sustainable. 

But let me start with the “greener” part of our presidency tagline. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our era, but the transition to a climate-neutral, circular economy also provides opportunities if we manage and use natural resources well. 

Just to mention one example, the Nordic electricity market is unique and one of the world’s most integrated forms of regional co-operation. 

During our presidency, we will strive to further develop the Nordic electricity market to reduce climate impact and end the European dependence on Russian fossil-based energy.

To make ourselves ready for the future, we must also adapt to the fast pace of technological development. Therefore, the Swedish presidency will continue to bring together relevant actors, including in the Baltic States, to discuss both physical and digital infrastructure and how we can uphold safe, secure, and open democratic processes. 

Secondly, we want to make the Nordic region safer by mobilizing all segments of society against all forms of serious crime. To do this, the Swedish presidency will focus especially on co-operation and exchanges of knowledge between the Nordic countries about organized crime, welfare fraud, violent extremism, and terrorism, as well as the enforcement of sentences. 

Finally, Nordic cooperation – especially the work to remove barriers – can make us freer. In short, Nordic cooperation is an engine for growth. 

In many ways, we are already one of the most competitive regions in the world. There is much to be proud of, but our economic strength and position must not be taken for granted. We must continue to make it easier for companies and individuals to work across borders. 

Today, barriers to cross-border mobility and integration in the Nordic region often consist of laws, regulations or practices that make it harder for companies, workers, or students to be based in a country other than their own, while operating or commuting across borders.

Such obstacles are not only negative for those who are directly involved – they also go against the political vision of the Nordic region as the world’s most integrated. Many studies have shown that there is large untapped potential here: 

  • For instance, tax regulations that make it more complicated to hire persons from another Nordic country may discourage employers from recruiting across borders. 
  • Differences in building regulations also make it difficult for companies operating in one country to move across borders. 

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Your Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

During the Swedish Presidency, we will host 100 to 200 meetings in total across Sweden, from Skellefteå in the north to Malmö in the south. Among the highlights ahead of us, we will for instance celebrate 70 years of the Nordic labor market and its significance to our region. [And perhaps show how it can work even better in the future.]

It is our government’s hope that the steps that we take during our presidencies of the Nordic Council of Ministers, N5 and NB 8 will benefit our region and make us stronger and safer, something that may be of benefit also to the wider European community.