The Nordics 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 Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as 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 by region as well as in terms of 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 worth illuminating 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, the Nordic countries have witnessed high levels of immigration, particularly from developing countries with immigrants from different cultural backgrounds. This has not only transformed them to multicultural societies but also, in recent years, the issue of immigration has been greatly politicized in the Nordic countries. Political parties, especially with the rise of the right-wing parties, have been crucial in bringing immigration on the national agenda of 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 in studying their various dimensions: political, social, economic, welfare, primary education system, IT, renewable energy sector etc., thus, emerging as one of the sought-after regions in Europe for research and attracting researchers from across the globe.
International Conference Current Global Developments and the Nordics Date: May 10th-11th, 2023
The international conference on “Current Global Developments and the Nordics” was organized by the Jean Monnet Module on “Understanding European Integration Through the Regional Lens” and the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) along with the Nordic Centre in India on 10 & 11 May 2023
The Conference was part of the Centre for European Studies’ regular focus on the region and The Conference organised in hybrid mode ensured participation of renowned academics from the region and focused on both the achievements and the challenges that the Nordic countries have faced in the last few years, including like the rest of the world the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Inaugural session of the Conference was Chaired by Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, Dean, School of International Studies, JNU who welcomed the participants and presented his initial remarks on the theme of the conference. This was followed by the introduction to the Conference by Prof Bhaswati Sarkar, Jean Monnet Chair and Chairperson at the Centre for European Studies. Prof Sarkar highlighted that the need to look at the Nordic countries results as much from their continued strong performances as reflected in the various parameters that measure political, economic and social developments as from the need to study how these countries are responding to challenges of demographic decline, immigration, increasing popularity of right-wing parties. The Russian war on Ukraine has also had inescapable impact on foreign policy of Sweden and Finland with both applying for the NATO membership. Besides this region has now become important in India’s foreign policy calculus as the second Nordic Summit held in 2022 clearly shows. Prof Mikko Ruohonen, Professor, Tampere University and Chairperson, Nordic Centre in India also addressed the Conference, where he joined Prof Sarkar in highlighting the several aspects of Nordics such as their welfare model, quality education, healthcare, technology, gender parity, social trust and environment. At the inaugural H.E. Guðni Bragason, Ambassador of Iceland to India, H.E. Hans Jacob Frydenlund, Ambassador of Norway to India, Mr. Martin Strandgaard, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Denmark, New Delhi, Mr. Christian Kamill, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Sweden, New Delhi, Dr Tito Gronow, Chargés d’ Affairs a .i., Embassy of Finland, New Delhi in their Special Remarks emphasized the socio-cultural links that each of the five countries share as well as their relations of cooperation with India. Growing Nordic-India engagement was also highlighted by Mr. Arun Kumar Sahu, Joint Secretary, Central Europe Division, Ministry of External Affairs, GoI. H.E. Manjeev Singh Puri, Former Ambassador to EU, Belgium, Luxembourg and Nepal, with his rich experience as a diplomat in his keynote address talked of how the India-Nordics relations have evolved over the years and how this cooperation can be further strengthened in such areas as education and healthcare, where India can both learn from the Nordic countries as well as could be a rich source of skilled labour to these countries. He expressed that the focus on the region is timely for it is important that we start looking at Europe moving beyond our fixation with the big three. The Inaugural Session, which discussed the key developments in recent years in the Nordic countries and their rich ties with India ended with vote of thanks by Ms. Christabel Royan, Director, Nordic Centre in India, setting the stage for presentations and discussions that followed.
This was followed by seven working sessions spanning two days covering varied topics such as foreign policy, security, radical-right populism, climate change, energy, impact of Covid-19, Arctic, and India-Nordic cooperation. Researchers and faculty members, both from JNU and Universities in Europe made presentations on these various issues, ably chaired by faculty members from Centre for European Studies and other Centres of the School of International Studies. The presentations were followed by Question-and-Answer and rich discussions. The Conference also received an overwhelming response from the attendees on both days, with around eighty registered participants on both days.
The Conference concluded with Prof Sarkar and Ms. Royan’s final remarks where they expressed their gratitude to the participants as well as Chairs of different sessions and emphasized the need to carry forward the ideas for further discussions and the efforts to continue organizing such Conferences, where scholars and researchers come together for intellectually stimulating discussions on issues dominating the Nordics and Europe at large. The proceedings of the conference will be put together in a volume. Lyimee Saikia, Research Scholar, Centre for European Studies, then closed the Conference with vote of thanks.