Looking back on a year of achievement in turbulent times

As I put the finishing touches on Nordregio’s Annual Report for 2022, I realised this is a good time to reflect not only on the achievements and progress of Nordregio, but also on Nordic collaboration during a challenging time.

The converging effects of the global macro trends and recent societal upheavals caused by war, migration, the energy and fuel crisis, labour shortage and the covid pandemic have created an increased demand for our research on regional planning, development and governance. What kind of policy is used and needed on different levels of governance to address challenges and to develop our society in these turbulent times? What are the effects and consequences for local communities and which groups are at risk of being left behind? These will be the main themes of our research for the coming years.

Unexpected findings from 2022

Our research contributes to informed policy formation in the Nordic countries and regions, sometimes uncovering unexpected findings compared to popular belief. Within mobility and Nordic integration, our research indicates that cross-border commuting in the Nordics is actually only half the level of the European mean. This should be an eye-opener for coming integration efforts and increased work on the removal of cross-border obstacles. A more integrated Nordic labour market would be beneficial both for the Nordic identity and have positive effects on the severe labour shortage experienced in many sectors.

What is a “Just Green Transition”? This is a concept that is often referenced in popular debates, but our initial research has shown there is actually no clear consensus on the concept’s definition. So the first step last year was to find a working definition for our own projects regarding a Just Green Transition based on the discussion of “Just”, “Green” and “Transition” in the literature. The result:

“A far-reaching societal change, towards a climate-neutral economy, that ensures social justice and preserves biodiversity”. Without a common understanding of basic concepts, there is limited use of detailed discussions.

When we looked into the perception of climate change and the green transition in the Nordics including the Arctics, an intriguing indication was that the people and communities who are potentially most affected by climate change seemed to be less worried than people in other areas. The forthcoming research in this area will be important to follow to try to understand why and how to interpret the results.

Nordic collaboration in times of international crisis and war

Ever since the first attempt to formalize the collaboration between the Nordic countries over a 100 years ago, new developments have often been connected to international crisis and war. The first grassroots initiative in the Nordics started after the Great War in 1919 with the forming of Föreningen Norden, where the contents and purpose of Nordic collaboration was painstakingly debated. One of the influential economists at the time, Eli F. Heckscher (”Det nordiska samarbetets innebörd”, Nordens årsbok 1924, 47 – 52) suggested to focus the collaboration on culture, education and research.

After the second world war, the idea of parliamentary cooperation was rooted and in 1952 the Nordic Council was formed leading to the Nordic passport union in 1954. In 1962 the present statutes for Nordic collaboration were agreed upon in Helsingforsavtalet, and in 1971 formal governmental cooperation was initiated within the Nordic Council of Ministers.

During 2022, war and crisis has again returned to Europe, bringing the Nordic collaboration in focus once more. Our common values and Nordic identity could be a solid platform for sharing Nordic perspectives on policy within e.g. EU, NATO, and the UN. A discussion regarding an update to the Helsingfors-agreement has begun, and it is possible that the present crisis will lead to renewed interest in our common Nordic history and increased collaboration in the future. I certainly hope so.