A new series exploring, analysing and discussing examples of a “Realm Union in action” or discussing possible concepts and ideas from other sources. Click here to read previous articles in the series.
Stepping outside of the Commonwealth for this issue I want to explore the concept and beginnings of the Nordic Council.
Inaugurated in 1953 (initially proposed in 1951) the Nordic Council is an inter-parliamentary forum for the Nordic countries. It was formed after WWII and quickly introduced a common labour market, the Nordic Passport Union and a common travel area among Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In 1971 a Nordic Council of Ministers was introduced to work alongside the council.
The 87 members of the Nordic Council are elected from the parliaments of the member countries in a system similar to that used by the European Parliament up to 1979.
The Nordic Council was able to form so quickly due to the historical, cultural, lingual and legal connections between them, but also because of the absence of other bodies and organisations with restrictive conditions. Taken from the report “Together or Apart – The Nordic Council and the EU”, “…the strength of the Nordic Council to be the historical, cultural and societal similarity of its member countries. Familiarity with northern conditions is cited as a further strength. Shared values and a common background for the basis of the NC’s activities and reinforce cohesion.” Later issues would arise with Finland due to their proximity to Russia and Denmark and Norway’s interests in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
The organisation now has five full members (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), three associate members (the self-governing territories of Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland), and four observer members (sovereign nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the federal German state of Schleswig-Holstein). This composition of sovereign nations, self-governing territories and other interested and/or related states is a really good example that the Realm Union can follow.
With the mixture of realms, overseas territories, dependencies, states, provinces, and home nations, if the federal German state of Schleswig-Holstein can be included in the Nordic Council along with the associate and observer members then I am confident that a Realm Union would be a success.
Exploring the early history of the council it is exciting to see how much was achieved in a short space of time. Social security, movement of people, passport standards, a proposed single market, public health and cultural initiatives were all included.
Unfortunately, as what happened with Britain since the 1970s, the European Economic Community (EEC), then later European Union (EU), started to unravel or supersede the agreements made in the council. The Nordic Passport Union for example, was taken over by the Schengen Agreement, but it is still valid for those members that are outside of the European Economic Area.
The Together or Apart report highlights some of the council’s weaknesses, and these same weaknesses are being experienced by the wider Commonwealth of Nations and will be experienced by the smaller Realm Union. Lack of political clout, bureaucracy, going round in circles with issues, external organisations taking priority, avoidance of hard issues are currently undermining the Nordic Council. These weaknesses would need to be addressed in any future union of the Commonwealth realms.
Despite the integration of the majority of the Nordic members into the EU the Nordic Council may still have a future. Some calls have been made for the council to federate the Nordic countries to make one large economic powerhouse (not too dissimilar to calls made to federate the CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK) countries or the Commonwealth realms, however, there is currently little interest among the average Scandinavian to move away from the small sovereign state.
When researching this piece what came across to me was the ease with which the council has been able to accommodate the different circumstances of each member while still maintaining the whole. When Sweden wished to remain neutral in defence matters, Denmark and Norway were still able to join NATO. When the newly independent Baltic States emerged from the USSR their interest was rewarded with observer status. When the EU members joined the Schengen area, Greenland was able to maintain the common travel area, albeit with some modifications.
The biggest point to make about the Nordic Council is that as well as a name that does a really good job at describing who they are, the Nordic Council has not eroded any of the traditions, tones or sovereignty of the members. Each one is still as patriotic as they have always been and all still wave their respective flags proudly. This then is further evidence to give to any naysayers that a Realm Union, Realm Council, Council of the Realms or similar would not have to undermine the sovereignty of the members.
The “Realm Union in action” series will be updated as our work progresses. I am very excited to have this opportunity to explore in more detail the Society’s proposals and ideas and hope that after reading them it gives our members and supporters hope for the future.
Jon-Paul Teasdale – Vice-Chair and United Kingdom Representative
Possible terms: Realm Union; Realm Council; United Realms; Council of the Realms