The Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers is a co-operation forum for the parliaments and governments of the Nordic countries. It was established following World War II and its first concrete result was the introduction in 1952 of a common labour market, social security, and free movement across borders without passports for the countries' citizens.
Members of the Council are the nations of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The autonomous territories of Faroe Islands (Denmark), Greenland (Denmark), and Åland (Finland) also hold associate membership in the Nordic Council.
In addition, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have expressed their wishes to apply for membership in the Council. The Nordic Council opened its information offices in all three countries in 1991. Also there are two Nordic Council offices in Northwestern Russia (in Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad). The Nordic Scottish Islands have yet to show an interest.
The Faroe Islands have expressed their wishes for full membership in the Nordic Council instead of the current associate membership. This would lead to sessions being held in the Faroes, the presidency of the Council routinely being held by the Faroes and the Faroes paying their share of the Council's expenses.
The Nordic Council and the Council of Ministers have offices in Copenhagen and various installations in each separate country, as well as many offices in neighbouring countries. The Council does not have any formal power on its own, but each government has to implement any decisions through its country's legislative assembly (parliament). 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.
The Nordic Council uses the three Continental-Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) as its official working languages, however it publishes material in Finnish, Icelandic and English, as well. Under the Nordic Language Convention, since 1987, 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.
The original Nordic Council concentrates on inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Nordic Council of Ministers, founded in 1971, is responsible for inter-governmental cooperation.
Formation of the Council
In 1946 the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian ministers of justice decided to appoint a committee to draw up proposals on co-operation in the future on legislation in the Nordic region.
In February 1953 the Nordic Council became a reality. Finland joined the council in 1956. The formation of the council made it possible for Nordic parliamentarians to play a larger role in the process of developing co-operation on legislation.
Today the council has 87 members, elected among the members of the national parliaments. The composition of the council reflects the relative representation of the political parties in the national parliaments.
The Nordic Council 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.
Alternative projects and plans
In the 1960s there were plans to develop the Nordic cooperation into an organisation similar to the European Economic Community. A treaty was negotiated to establish a new organisation, Nordek headquartered in Malmö. Ultimately it was the case that Finland did not ratify the treaty due to its relationship with the Soviet Union. Without Finland the idea was defunct, and Norway and Denmark chose to apply for membership to the EEC. Denmark became a member of the EEC in 1973, but Norway rejected accession in the same year in a referendum. 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.
Sweden and Finland joined the European Union in 1995. Norway has not joined, twice rejecting an offer of membership through a national referendum. Recent polls show that Icelandic support for beginning admission talks with EU and joining, has been increasing in recent years, and in mid 2007, 58% of the Icelandic public wanted to begin admission talks with EU.
The tasks of the Nordic Council overlap significantly with the European Union and related organizations and treaties.