The Nordic Countries

The Nordic countries or Nordics is a cluster of five sovereign states located in Northern Europe, with the Arctic Circle passing through them and proximity to the Arctic Ocean. They include Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden along with three autonomous territories — the Faroe Islands and Greenland (Denmark) and the Åland Islands (Finland). Besides, the Jan Mayen island and the archipelago of Svalbard, both unincorporated areas of Norway are also encompassed in the Nordic region.

Taking a closer look at the Nordic region country-wise, Denmark is the southernmost country, sharing borders with Germany in the south while Finland shares land borders with Norway in the north-west, Russia in the east and Sweden on the west. Iceland is the most distantly located Nordic country out of the five while Norway shares boundaries with Finland in the north-east, Sweden in the east and a 196 kilometres long border with Russia in the north. Lastly, Sweden is the largest of all the Nordic countries in terms of territory and population size. It has Finland as its neighbour in the north-east and Norway in the west. Besides, Sweden is also connected to Denmark via the Öresund Bridge. Built in 2000, it is a 7.8 km combined road and rail bridge and is also the longest in Europe, connecting Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden.

Together, the total population of these five Nordic countries is slightly above 20.5 million. The capitals of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are Copenhagen, Helsinki, Reykjavík, Oslo and Stockholm respectively. These are also the largest cities of their respective countries.

The Nordic countries share common linguistic links and their native languages — Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish are all North Germanic languages rooted in the Old Norse. Finnish is the only native non-Germanic language but Swedish is also spoken in Finland by a minority of about 5 percent of the population and is the second official language of the country after Finnish.

Not only linguistically, these states have also been well-connected by virtue of strong historical ties. In 1380, Denmark and Norway were merged under a single Danish crown and Denmark also acquired Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. In 1397, the kingdoms of Denmark-Norway and Sweden, which had already occupied Finland in 1239 were united to form the Kalmar Union which lasted till 1523. However, under the terms of the Treaty of Kiel (1814), Norway passed on to Sweden and remained until gaining independence in 1905. On the other hand, Finland, which was part of Sweden till 1809 was transferred to the Czarist Russia as a result of the Finnish War (1808-1809). However, on December 6, 1917, Finland unilaterally declared itself independent following the collapse of Czarism and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. On January 8, 1918, Lenin recognized the Finnish independence and the Treaty of Tartu (1920) confirmed the border between Finland and Russia. Iceland, which had been under the Danish domination since the 14th century, first gained limited self-government in 1874 and autonomy in 1904. However, in 1944, following a referendum, Iceland achieved full independence from Denmark.

While geographical boundaries were redrawn in the 20th century, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden continue to represent themselves as a cohesive, single entity on various platforms. The first of such was inaugurated in 1952 when passport requirements for travel between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden were abolished. Later in 1954, the Nordic labour market was established and the agreement was extended to allow citizens to reside and work in any of these four Nordic countries without a residence or work permit. Iceland acceded to the agreement in 1966.

At the European level, three Nordic countries are Member States of the European Union (EU); Denmark joined in 1973 while Finland and Sweden in 1995. Furthermore, three are also members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Denmark, Iceland and Norway, all joining in 1949 for the purpose of military security. Besides, since 2001, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have been part of the Schengen Area, thus, abolishing checks at common borders of the Schengen Member States, establishing common visa and common standards for external border controls and facilitating free movement of people within the Area.

Classified as high-income countries by the World Bank, the Nordic countries have a strong, well-performing economy with low unemployment rates and characterized by free-market capitalism with a high degree of income redistribution mainly by means of heavy taxation. Besides, they also have a robust welfare system which is executed by the public sector. Individually too, the Nordic countries are known for some of the renowned multinational companies as well as for their contribution to science and technology. Examples may include Denmark’s Mærsk, Finland’s Nokia and its University of Oulu being home for the first 6G research and innovation centre in world, the Icelandic Glacial, Norway as one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of oil and gas and Swedish giants such as Ericsson, Electrolux, H&M, Ikea and Volvo.

In the political domain, the Nordic countries are known for their democratic values especially, equality, freedom of the press and respect for human rights and are therefore, often looked at as models in the political arena. Against this backdrop, it is important to mention that these countries have been consistent top-rank holders in world rankings on various parameters such as the Democracy Index, Gender Equality, Gender Wage Gap, Human Development Index, World Press Freedom Index to name a few.

Culturally, while the Nordic region has largely been ethnically and religiously homogeneous for the longest time in their history, since the mid-20th century, they have experienced high levels of immigration, particularly from developing countries with immigrants from different cultural backgrounds. These countries as signatories to the Geneva Convention have also been robust in accepting refugees. This has not only transformed them to multicultural societies but also, in recent years as in the rest of Europe, seen intense politicization of the immigration issue. Right-wing political parties are in ascendance impacting the immigration narrative in these countries.

At the international level, the Nordic countries have taken leadership in environment and climate issues which are prioritized at the highest political level. In 2020, the Nordic Council of Ministers signed a new vision to become the world’s most sustainable and integrated region by 2030 and to work together to promote a competitive, green and sustainable Nordic region. With this vision in mind, the Nordic countries have been keen on forging strategic partnerships with foreign countries. One such instance is the Green Strategic Partnership launched between Denmark and India in 2020 to fight climate change and work towards achieving ‘green growth’.

In light of all these achievements and challenges, the Nordic countries have elicited great interest among scholars and academicians who study the individual states and the region as a whole focusing on various dimensions: political, social, economic, welfare, primary education system, IT, renewable energy sector.