We can still be friends across the border

Image result for border sweden norway
The Sweden – Norway Border

New Secretary General of the Nordic Council appointed

– and how friendly relations between neighbouring independent nation states work when scare-mongering is set aside and trust is established!

By stewartb

Talk of independence for Scotland often comes round quickly to Unionists making dire predictions for the nature of the land border between Scotland and whatever the nation state to the south ends up being called. Border posts and passport checks; restrictions on cross-border commuting for those living in border areas; bad consequences for cross-border trade in goods: these and other fears are promoted time after time in case making for the Union.

It is therefore salutary – and relevant – to find that cross-border relations between independent nation states need not be as British/Unionist fear-mongers would have us believe they will.  And the place to turn for examples of what grown-up relations between friendly neighbours can actually be like is the Nordics.

The recent appointment of a new Secretary General of the Nordic Council provides a prompt to explore an example of how, post-independence Scotland and its immediate neighbours could peacefully and co-operatively co-exist – well at least if comparable ‘trust’ could be achieved.

The Nordic Council

The Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Council are the main fora for official Nordic co-operation. The Council’s overarching vision is “to make the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world.” So yes a vision of integration but occurring between independent nation states that intend to remain so and moreover among nation states with their own particular trading relationships and monetary/currency characteristics.

These diverse, co-operating members of the Nordic Council are:

  • Denmark – (EU member; own currency with formal opt-out from Eurozone)
  • Finland – (EU members; within Eurozone)
  • Iceland – (EFTA member; within European Economic Area); own currency)
  • Norway – (EFTA members, within EEA; own currency)
  • Sweden – (EU member; own currency with no plans to join Eurozone)
  • Faroe Islands – (a self-governing entity within the Kingdom of Denmark; not in the EU; negotiates own trade and fisheries agreements with the EU and other countries)
  • Greenland – (self-governing entity within the Kingdom of Denmark; not in EU)
  • Åland – an autonomous (and demilitarised) region of Finland.

The Council has 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. Each Nordic country sends a delegation to the Nordic Council which is made up of members elected annually by national parliaments. Only members of national parliaments are eligible to be members of the delegation. A broad spectrum of political opinion must be represented.

The Secretary General

The new Secretary General is Kristina Háfoss. She comes from the Faroe Islands where she is a member of Tjóðveldi (Republic), a left-wing political party that (notably) is committed to full independence for the Faroe Islands. 

Háfoss is the first Secretary General of the Nordic Council from the Faroes and from Denmark. Under the Helsinki Treaty – the basic charter for Nordic co-operation – the Faroe Islands, Åland, and Greenland are not fully equal to the region’s five nation states of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. But despite this difference, the President of the Nordic Council noted: “Fortunately, despite this, there is nothing to prevent us from handing over the responsibility for our entire administration to someone from the Faroe Islands,” and added “This is a great example of the spirit of co-operation within the Nordic Council.”

(Ms Háfoss was a Member of the Faroese parliament in 2002–2004, 2011–2015 and 2019–2021, Minister of Culture, Education and Research 2008 and Minister of Finance 2015–2019.)

In an initial statement on taking up her post, Háfoss focused on the following themes:

  • the lessons from the pandemic acting as a catalyst for more Nordic co-operation – seeking Nordic solutions in the future for example in contingency planning for emergencies.
  • further progress on removal of barriers to cross-border mobility – as a strong advocate of freedom of movement, Háfoss would like to see an end to all obstacles to mobility in the Nordic Region.

“Our work must focus on those who want to work, study and run companies across national borders. They should feel that Nordic co-operation facilitates moving from one country to another, or living in one and working in another. We have come a long way, but we have not yet crossed the finishing line.”

  • digitalisation – she sees ‘e-ID’ as an example of the potential to use digitalisation to improve free movement. (Presently the e-ID is used to access services carried out by in country central and local government online.)

“When we get the Nordic e-ID systems to ‘talk’ to each other, it will allow people to use their national e-ID in the other countries. That would be a big step toward freedom of movement, and we’re not that far away from achieving it.”

  • ‘more of all things Nordic in schools’ – to raise awareness of Nordic co-operation among children and young people, with more teaching about the neighbouring countries, their history, languages and co-operation in schools, as well as greater focus on showing that working together is not just a political project but is also important for ordinary people
  • leadership internationally – highlighting the importance of the Nordic Region as a global pioneer on issues such as climate change, the Arctic, democracy and the fight against injustice and inequality.

Her term as Secretary General of the Nordic Council lasts a maximum of eight years. By then she  states:

“I hope and wish that we will enjoy closer co-operation than we do now. All of the current obstacles to cross-border freedom of movement will be gone. I also envisage our e-ID being used in all of the Nordic countries, that the Region will have a stronger foreign-policy profile and that we have achieved our vision of making this the most integrated region in the world.”

Border problems arise and solutions are developed

Even in this mature international co-operation, border ‘problems’ do arise between the Nordic countries as new, exceptional and unforeseen circumstances arise. Here is one example.

Earlier in 2020, as governments intervened to manage the pandemic, this appeared on the Nordic Council website: “Closed borders could lead to cross-border commuters in the Nordic region facing a highly complex tax situation. Under the current agreements between the countries, you pay income tax where you work. The Nordic Council is concerned that it is unclear what happens when you are working from home.”

We learn that one section of the ‘Øresund Agreement’ – between Denmark and Sweden to govern the tax affairs of those that commute across the Øresund Bridge -.specifies that employees can spend 50% of the time working at home over a three-month period. That time window was running out during lockdown. It was also unclear whether this rule applied in this situation if employees have been working 100% at home since mid-March 2020 – or had been unable to work at all.

“This is an extraordinary situation, which makes it difficult to anticipate the consequences for individuals. We urgently need to find a clear solution that ensures people are not caught in a tax trap,” said Pyry Niemi, Chair of the Committee for Growth and Development in the Nordic Region.

So yes, problems arise but the sensible attitude is that when they do they’ll be fixed!

13 thoughts on “We can still be friends across the border

  1. And now for the flip side of the coin
    The mad Brexiters are trumpeting the great success of the vaccine rollout,mainly by extolling how they were able to go it alone and not to be tied to the catastrophe of the EU and their vaccine travails
    So let us flip the coin
    And as a certain former French President (J.Chirac)said in reply to a previous emerging crisis, when asked why he would not comment
    His reply one has to wait to the cattle show has finished and all the cattle gone home
    Then and only then can you count the cow dung
    And let us apply this dic tat to The EU and the Brexiteers
    Put asides the awful gaffe over article 16 of NI protocol
    1.The EU deal with big pharma
    Is far cheaper / vaccine than UK
    2.EU deal Does not share patient vaccinated data UK does
    3.Over 80% of EU ordered vaccines do NOT
    require a 2nd dose
    So once more in terms of the cow dung and the result we once more are a witnessing hare/ tortoise race
    Tis the result that only matters not the current score
    Ah but methinks MSM as matters progress will conveniently over look to report on the progress of this race as the finish line comes into sight


  2. Trust and England’s Tories is a contradiction in terms,as the EU has found out.
    No one in the Nordic countries would want them as a neighbour because of their history of trying to dominate everyone else.
    Scotland would be a good fit however and no problem with the idea of pooling and sharing which is part of the Nordic culture we have in common.
    The Westminster attempt at producing something similar,the Council of the Isles,has gone nowhere because the political will from England simply isn’t there….federalists take note.
    Cooperation doesn’t fit with an 18th century swashbuckling,punching above their weght,do unto others etc political ideology espoused by the present bunch of Brexiteers.
    No one wants them but at least an independent Scottish state would be given a fair hearing by most others.


  3. ” the political will from England simply isn’t there….federalists take note”.

    Federalists do need to stop deceiving (some) voters in Scotland on the level of demand for – and thus the feasibility of creating – radical change in governance structures in England.

    The House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is currently conducting an enquiry entitled: “Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up – local and regional structures and the delivery of economic growth.” It appears to be England focused.

    Members of the Committee and witnesses refer to an upcoming White Paper on devolution – again presumably for England. The witnesses appear to be most concerned with gaining more powers for local authorities – powers going to the smallest level possible – with larger scale, strategic issues being handled by ‘partnerships’ . There is no sense of demand for a structural change such as federalism.

    In an oral evidence session on 24 November 2020 the Committee interviewed Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. In a remarkable response to the ears of someone accustomed to devolution in Scotland, Murison at one point stated this in a response to a question from the Chair.

    Chair: Henri Murison, as the third of our powerhouses and as the first powerhouse, is it your responsibility to deliver levelling up? How will you measure success?

    Murison: “The primary building block for delivery has to be devolution. In the north of England, we are fast approaching 100% devolution: that is metro Mayors with combined authorities. There is a role for Transport for the North in pan-regional delivery, but it is quite narrow, in our opinion.”

    So again for aspiring federalists to note: “In the north of England, we are fast approaching 100% devolution.” So, basically content?


    1. Nick Timothy in the Torygraf thinks if England only had a parliament of its own, everything would be hunky dory. Westminster-Duh?
      He also thinks we all got brainwashed by the SNP at SCHOOL!


      1. “He also thinks we all got brainwashed by the SNP at SCHOOL!”

        Well, he’s got to be right, hasn’t he? I mean, look at me…

        Born and educated in the NW of England, never really heard of the SNP until I moved up here in my 30s and my heart said yes but my head said no for IndyRef. I even believed the BBC!

        Now? Never had any party affiliation – also NEVER vote Tory and can’t see a set of circumstances where I ever would.

        Sneaky lot the SNP, stealth radicalisation…


  4. Would you go for a pint with a Bullingdon Boy?
    Would you want your sister go out with one?
    Would you count your fingers if you shook their hand?


  5. It is more than a pity that Westminster considers itself impervious to law that challenges English legal culture, as that means Scots will never be able to access international law. Unless we tell Westminster we’re not sub-human, or the property of England. Please try to remember all Scots are agents of international law, so Brexit should be viewed as a crime against international law and order.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Scotland joining EFTA and the Nordic Council would be, in my view, two great moves.

    However, on the problem of having an open border with England, while probably a good move, I can never see it working, because England would want to have the major say in how it worked.

    The English idea of cross-border, or indeed any kind of co-operation – other than with the USA is – OK, we tell you what to do and you do it.

    I doubt if that can ever be bred out of them.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I loved this, and still sing it to myself a lot! Oh and my pals in NE Eng in 2014 who ridiculed me for supporting indy, one from Ireland(!) said, ‘but Scotland’s part of the same land mass as us’. OFG’s sake! You could lose the will eh…still, rather hilarious then and now really!

    Lady Alba…good to watch this again.

    Liked by 2 people

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