By Niklas Ylander
A mixture of scholars, entrepreneurs, civil society activists and youth party representatives have a common cause: They are more than ever promoting the idea of a common Nordic federation. Despite its revolutionary nature, this idea meets no direct opposition in the political world. Instead it is a story of how this revolutionary idea was crushed by the network of the ‘Cozy Nordic Club’.
Last fall, even the Uppsala Association of International Affairs had a lecture on the theme of a Nordic federation. 150 years after its heydays in the 1860s, the idea of a united Nordic state has once again been revived. In parallel with the growth of the 19th century’s liberal movement, scandinavianism was on the agenda for nearly two decades, especially among students. When the Swedish-Norwegian Kingdom did not support Denmark in its war against Prussia in 1864, scandinavianism fell apart as a political influence. The idea of a Scandinavian state totally disappeared from the political agenda. The enduring national narratives in each country in the 19th century, led to the neglection of this Nordic influence in the collective memory.
However, the idea of Nordic cooperation has lived on among academics, cultural profiles, state officials and in business circles. It has been institutionalized in the Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers, which is a platform for politicians to discuss Nordic issues. The civil society organisation Föreningen Norden has been a front-runner based on the grassroot level. ‘Nordic solutions’ to policy problems have been on the highest political agenda a couple of times. In the wake of the Second World War there were negotiations for a Nordic defence union, and in the 1970s the Nordic states tried to create Nordek, an alternative to the European Community, the EU, at the time.
The rise of the Cozy Nordic Club
The attention for Nordic cooperation of today has been growing for the last 10 years. Today the main argument is that the five Nordic countries together would gain much greater influence in world politics if they would have one voice, with an economy among the 10 richest countries in the world. The debate was started by the most cited book in this field: Förbundsstaten Norden from 2010 by Gunnar Wetterberg. Wetterberg argued that the Nordic region had a unique chance to unify in a time of limited involvement from major powers.
Any cooperation among the Nordic countries is non-controversial even though three of five are members of NATO. The mutual acceptance of each other involves a coziness which puts a damper on the activity of the Nordic federalists, which is deeply problematic. The federalists appear to be a network with smiling people, discussing the shining sun soon to discover, in the end, that no one really cares. This cozy network, I put it, would be called the Cozy Nordic Club.
Promoting the idea of a Nordic Federation is revolutionary. It is not cozy at all. But the federalists involved seem to believe it. In practice, five sovereign states would transfer core state functions, e.g. their monopoly of violence, to one single political body. Despite this fact, the idea of a Nordic federation is still seen as something unproblematic, and definitely very cozy. It can continue to be cozy because everything that is considered as a Nordic solution, is regarded as uncontroversial. However, hard debates are to be made. Is the federation going to be a member of NATO and EU? What language would the federal lingua Franca be? Where is the federal administration going to be placed? What kind of immigration policy is the federation going to promote etcetera? Some people will lose from this, some will benefit from it. A relevant question from top politicians would also be; why do we need a federation when the Nordic countries are successful on their own in the global race? The activists in this loose network of the Cozy Nordic Club must stop to be cozy and address these issues. If not, they will be irrelevant and their coziness might crush the idea of a Nordic state.
The federalists have always avoided these hard issues. The answer has constantly been that there should be an expert committee to investigate these issues. The federalists tend to see state building as a technocratic process, starting an investigation with experts to figure it out in splendid agreement.
The dominance of the national mindset
During hundreds of years dominated by hostile Scandinavian relations, the Kings in Denmark and Sweden did their best to split the Scandinavian language. Later it was fueled by the rise of nationalism, claiming that the Scandinavian peoples belonged to different sovereign states. The consequences are still to be seen today, fewer people in Scandinavia are able to understand each other, despite popular Scandinavian TV-series, e.g. SKAM and the Bridge. Danish is seen as a guttural sound unable to be understood by most Scandinavians today. The Scandinavian dialects (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish) are even seen as separate languages. In Finland, the amount of the Swedish-speaking minority is declining. The national mindset is very strong in the different countries and difficult to change.
The federalists in the Cozy Nordic Club avoid to get deeper on the topic of what the federation would consist of. The idea is that a common set up of institutions is enough to form a Nordic federation, as if the institutions would guarantee the success itself. This elitistic viewpoint neglects the issue of the involvement of a Nordic people. Scholars like, for example, Lars Trägårdh have emphasised the importance of an inclusive nationalism, that has been an important basis for the generous and universal Nordic welfare system. A far reaching Nordic federation would need a stronger link to its people and its values in order to avoid an illegitimate elitistic political monster. The Cozy Nordic Club must address this issue in order to be taken seriously.
If it succeeds, it will be unique
Is a united Nordic Federation a possible scenario for the future? Well, the institutions, the cultural traits, and welfare issues are very similar. Trade between the countries is significant. Different national interests in the security policy domain are a negative factor. The lack of a debate of the hard issues, and great overarching reason behind a unification is a bigger problem.
If it were to happen, it would be a fairly unique story. World wars, decolonization and the fall of the Soviet Union created a large number of states. The few examples of uniting several states into one, are Yugoslavia and modern Germany. Yugoslavia ended in bloodshed and Germany succeeded due to the fact that West Germany had the upper hand.
If the Nordic federation is going to succeed, the Cozy Nordic Club must dissolve and start to debate the tough issues.
Niklas Ylander has a master’s degree in political science with a special interest in Scandinavian politics. After his studies in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, he is constantly wondering about the differences and similarities between the countries.
Image: Yuriy Garnaev