Nordic Council

Stylised circular motif of a white swan upon a blue disk on a white background
Member states and regions of the Nordic Council (blue).
Member states and regions of the Nordic Council (blue).
HeadquartersDenmark Copenhagen
Largest cities Stockholm
Working languages
Type Intergovernmental organization
   Secretary-General Sweden Britt Bohlin Olsson
   President Iceland Höskuldur Þórhallsson
   Vice-President Iceland Guðbjartur Hannesson
   Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Norway Dagfinn Høybråten
   Presidency of the Council of Ministers Denmark Denmark
   Nordic Council inaugurated 12 Feb 1953 
   Treaty of Helsinki 1 Jul 1962 
   Nordic Council of Ministers and Secretariat inaugurated Jul 1971 
   2012 estimate 25,880,000

The Nordic Council is a geo-political inter-parliamentary forum for co-operation between the Nordic countries. It was formed after the Second World War in 1952 to promote co-operation between the five Nordic countries. Its first concrete result was the introduction in 1952 of a common labour market and free movement across borders without passports for the countries' citizens.

The Council consists of 87 representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the autonomous areas of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Åland Islands. The representatives are members of parliament in their respective country/area and are elected by those parliaments. The Council holds ordinary sessions each year in October/November and usually one extra session per year with a specific theme. Since 1991 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania participate with observer status, as well as the German state of Schleswig-Holstein since 2016.

In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental forum, was established to complement the Council.


During World War II, Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany; Finland fought a costly war with the Soviet Union; while Sweden, though neutral, still felt the war's effects. Following the war, the Nordic countries pursued the idea of a Scandinavian defence union to ensure their mutual defence. However, Finland, due to its Paasikivi-Kekkonen policy of neutrality and FCMA treaty with the USSR, could not participate.

It was proposed that the Nordic countries would unify their foreign policy and defence, remain neutral in the event of a conflict and not ally with NATO, which some were planning at the time. The United States, keen on getting access to bases in Scandinavia and believing the Nordic countries incapable of defending themselves, stated it would not ensure military support for Scandinavia if they did not join NATO. As Denmark and Norway sought US aid for their post-war reconstruction, the project collapsed, with Denmark, Norway and Iceland joining NATO.[1]

Further Nordic co-operation, such as an economic customs union, also failed. This led Danish Prime Minister Hans Hedtoft to propose, in 1951, a consultative inter-parliamentary body. This proposal was agreed by Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in 1952.[2] The Council's first session was held in the Danish Parliament on 13 February 1953 and it elected Hans Hedtoft as its president. When Finnish-Soviet relations thawed following the death of Joseph Stalin, Finland joined the council in 1955.[3]

On 2 July 1954, the Nordic labour market was created and in 1958, building upon a 1952 passport-free travel area, the Nordic Passport Union was created. These two measures helped ensure Nordic citizens' free movement around Scandinavia. A Nordic Convention on Social Security was implemented in 1955. There were also plans for a single market but they were abandoned in 1959 shortly before Denmark, Norway and Sweden joined the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Finland became an associated member of EFTA in 1961 and Denmark and Norway applied to join the European Economic Community (EEC).[3]

This move towards the EEC led to desire for a formal Nordic treaty; the Helsinki Treaty outlined the workings of the Council and came into force on 24 March 1962. Further advancements on Nordic cooperation were made in the following years: a Nordic School of Public Health, a Nordic Cultural Fund and Nordic House in Reykjavík. Danish Prime Minister Hilmar Baunsgaard proposed full economic cooperation ("Nordek") in 1968. Nordek was agreed in 1970, but Finland then backtracked, stating that its ties with the Soviet Union meant it could not form close economic ties with potential members of the EEC (Denmark and Norway).[3] Nordek was then abandoned.

As a consequence, Denmark and Norway applied to join the EEC and the Nordic Council of Ministers was set up in 1971 to ensure continued Nordic cooperation.[4] In 1970 representatives of the Faroe Islands and Åland were allowed to take part in the Nordic Council as part of the Danish and Finnish delegations.[3] Norway turned down EEC membership in 1972 while Denmark acted as a bridge builder between the EEC and the Nordics.[5] Also in 1973, although Finland did not opt for full membership of the EEC, Finland negotiated a free trade treaty with the EEC that in practice removed customs duties from 1977 on, although there were transition periods up to 1985 for some products. Sweden did not apply due to its non-alliance policy, which was aimed at preserving neutrality. Greenland subsequently left the EEC and has since sought a more active role in circumpolar affairs.

In the 1970s, the Nordic Council founded the Nordic Industrial Fund, Nordtest and the Nordic Investment Bank. The Council's remit was also expanded to include environmental protection and, in order to clean up the pollution in the Baltic Sea and North Atlantic, a joint energy network was established. The Nordic Science Policy Council was set up in 1983[5] and, in 1984, representatives from Greenland were allowed to join the Danish delegation.[3]

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Nordic Council began to cooperate more with the Baltic states and new Baltic Sea organisations. Sweden and Finland joined the European Union (EU), the EEC's successor, in 1995. Norway had also applied, but once again voted against membership.[6] However, Norway and Iceland did join the European Economic Area (EEA) which integrated them economically with the EU. The Nordic Passport Union was also subsumed into the EU's Schengen Area in 1996.

The Nordic Council became more outward-looking, to the Arctic, Baltic, Europe and Canada. The Øresund Bridge linking Sweden and Denmark led to a large amount of cross-border travel, which in turn led to further efforts to reduce barriers.[6] However, the initially envisioned tasks and functions of the Nordic Council have become partially dormant due to the significant overlap with the EU and EEA. In 2008 Iceland began to EU membership talks,[7] but decided to annul these in 2015.[8]



The Nordic Council consists of 87 representatives, elected from its members' parliaments and reflecting the relative representation of the political parties in those parliaments. It holds its main session in the autumn, while a so-called "theme session" is arranged in the spring. Each of the national delegations has its own secretariat in the national parliament. The autonomous territories  Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland  also have Nordic secretariats, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania sit as observer states.[9]

The Nordic Council uses the three Continental Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) as its official working languages, but also publishes material in Finnish, Icelandic and English.[10] Since 1987, under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs. The Convention covers visits to hospitals, job centres, the police and social security offices. The languages included are Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic.[11]

The Council does not have any formal power on its own, but each government has to implement any decisions through its national legislature. With Denmark, Norway and Iceland being members of NATO and Finland and Sweden being neutral, the Nordic Council has not been involved in any military cooperation.

Council of Ministers

The original Nordic Council concentrates on inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Nordic Council of Ministers, founded in 1971, is responsible for inter-governmental cooperation. Prime Ministers have ultimate responsibility but this is usually delegated to the Minister for Nordic Cooperation and the Nordic Committee for Co-operation, which co-ordinates the day-to-day work. The autonomous territories have the same representation as states.[12]

Secretary General


Nordic Council headquarters in Copenhagen. White building with Norden sign and flag at street Ved Stranden No. 18

The Nordic Council and the Council of Ministers have their headquarters in Copenhagen and various installations in each separate country, as well as many offices in neighbouring countries. The headquarters are located at Ved Stranden No. 18, close to Slotsholmen.


Members of the Council:

Country name Arms Flag Membership Parliament Membership status Represented since Members EU relation NATO relation
Denmark Denmark full Folketing sovereign state 1952 16 European Union member NATO member
Finland Finland full Eduskunta sovereign state 1955 18 European Union member partnership
Iceland Iceland full Alþingi sovereign state 1952 7 associate NATO member
Norway Norway full Storting sovereign state 1952 20 associate NATO member
Sweden Sweden full Riksdag sovereign state 1952 20 European Union member partnership
Åland Åland Islands associate Lagting self-governing region of Finland 1970 2 European Union territory demilitarized zone
Faroe Islands Faroe Islands associate Løgting self-governing region of the Unity of the Realm 1970 2 minimal NATO member
Greenland Greenland associate Inatsisartut self-governing region of the Unity of the Realm 1984 2 OCT NATO member
Estonia Estonia observer Riigikogu sovereign state 1991 European Union member NATO member
Latvia Latvia observer Saeima sovereign state 1991 European Union member NATO member
Lithuania Lithuania observer Seimas sovereign state 1991 European Union member NATO member
Schleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein observer Landtag federal state of Germany 2016 European Union member NATO member

The Sámi political structures (Sami Parliament) have long desired formal representation in the Nordic Council's structures, and are increasingly de facto included in activities touching upon their interests. In addition, the Faroe Islands have expressed their wishes for full membership in the Nordic Council instead of the current associate membership.

The northernmost German state of Schleswig-Holstein joined as an observer in 2016. The state has historical ties to Denmark and cross-border cooperation with Denmark and has a Danish minority population.[13] As parliamentary representatives from Schleswig-Holstein, a member of the South Schleswig Voter Federation and a member of the Social Democrats with ties to the Danish minority were elected.[14]


Further information: Scandinavism

Some desire the Nordic Council's promotion of Nordic cooperation to go much further than at present. If the states of Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland were to merge in such an integration as some desire, it would command a gross domestic product of US$1.60 trillion, making it the twelfth largest economy in the world, larger than that of Australia, Spain, Mexico or South Korea. Gunnar Wetterberg, a Swedish historian and economist, wrote a book entered into the Nordic Council's year book that proposes the creation of a Nordic Federation from the Council in a few decades.[15]


By 1999 Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in his famous "Estonia as a Nordic Country" speech, outlined Estonia's "special case" for membership.[16] Ilves became President of Estonia in 2006.

See also


  1. The plan for a Scandinavian Defence Union, European Navigator. Étienne Deschamps. Translated by the CVCE.
  2. Before 1952, Nordic Council
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 1953–1971 Finland joins in and the first Nordic rights are formulated., Nordic Council
  4. The period up to 1971, Nordic Council of Ministers
  5. 1 2 1972–1989, Nordic Council of Ministers
  6. 1 2 After 1989, Nordic Council of Ministers
  7. "Further Icelandic support for EU membership | IceNews – Daily News". 3 November 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  8. "Iceland drops EU membership bid: 'interests better served outside' union". The Guardian. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  9. About the Nordic Council
  10. "Norden". Norden. 11 September 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2009.
  11. Archived 28 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. The Nordic Council of Ministers
  13. Schleswig-Holstein for the first time uses its observer status in the Nordic Council (in German), Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein, 1 November 2016
  14. Election of observational members to the Nordic Council, Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein, 3 November 2016
  15. Wetterberg, Gunnar (3 November 2010) Comment The United Nordic Federation, EU Observer
  16. "Estonia as a Nordic Country".
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