The world is facing a new type of crisis. Apart from the serious health implications, the COVID19 pandemic has significantly impacted people’s social lives, businesses, work and travel. In this edition of Nordregio Magazine, we look into the impacts of the pandemic on regional development and identify some of the most important topics for future regional studies in the Nordic countries.
Integration is more important than ever
Nordic citizens have become very accustomed to the benefits of Nordic cooperation and the free movement of people, goods, services and capital in Europe. During the pandemic, this free flow has been interrupted, as many countries closed their borders, exposing the vulnerability of international cooperation in times of crisis. The effects have been particularly evident in the many cross-border regions and labour markets in the Nordic countries.
In 2019, the Nordic Council of Ministers adopted a new vision stating that the Nordic Region should become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. When first presented with the vision, Nordregio Director Kjell Nilsson actually thought it should be more ambitious.
“Nordic countries were consistently at the top of international sustainability rankings, and, in my view, the region was already the most integrated in the world,” he says. “With the closing of the borders, however, I’ve come to realise that this goal is more relevant than ever. We haven’t seen a situation like this since the Second World War. It has become very clear how important free mobility is to our economic development, welfare and wellbeing.”
“To achieve this goal, we must study the history of integration in the Nordic Region and identify the indicators for whether a region is integrated or not. That will allow us to measure progress.”
Resilience is key
Nilsson expects resilience to be a key research priority in the years to come. The concept of resilience was introduced in the Nordic Co-operation Programme for Regional Development and Planning for the period 2017-2020. Up until then, the term had mostly been used in an environmental context, referring to the adaptability and resilience to climate change.
“Regional resilience is about the ability to prevent or tackle crisis. If, for instance, the local labour market is heavily reliant on one industry, shocks in that industry can have a tremendous effect. The more diversified the business sector and job market, the more resilient the region.”
During the corona crisis, local and national authorities have been tested on their ability to react quickly and efficiently to the situation. As an example, all the Nordic countries expanded their intensive care capacity to keep up with the increased demand, even at the peak of the crisis.
“This ability deserves further attention,” says Nilsson “It’s impossible to prepare for everything, as the nature of the next crisis cannot be predicted. The ability of the authorities to respond to unforeseen circumstances, therefore, remains an essential aspect.”
As a reaction to the economic shockwaves of the pandemic, all Nordic countries have launched significant support packages for businesses and other economic stimuli. An important research task will be to analyse the impact of these measures on the economy and the labour market. According to Nilsson, all aspects of economic recovery should be linked to the green transition.
“Society has been in lockdown for several months, but the effect in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions has actually been very limited. This underlines the need for large-scale solutions to enable the transition toward a carbon-neutral society.”