A Nordic Union? - A review of the Gunnar-Wetterberg-proposal

Scientific Essay, 2010
42 Pages

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1. Introduction

2. An European Dimension

3. The Nordic Case in brief

4. Conceptual Frameworks

5. Time and Background

6. The Debate

7. Discussion

8. Interim Conclusions

A. appendix – Wetterberg-proposal

B. references

Comments, correctures, ideas or statements on this paper as especially the topic are most welcome (in: scandinavian, english, german) marked as “Review” via mail at: ThomaxScholz@web.de

1. Introduction

On 27th of october 2009 the swedish historian and social commentator Gunnar Wetterberg published an article as a commententoral opinion in the swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter claiming the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland to establish a Nordic federal state.

The main reason for this suggestion of a Nordic Union is the expectation of a raised common international impact of the Nordic states. This concept is using the historical model of the Kalmar Union, which had unified the Scandinavian countries for centuries during the late middleages (1397-1523), adopted and modified to meet present challenges of a globalising and europeanizing world. This proposal, published in time to coincide with the annual Session of the Nordic Council in 2009, had been rejected directly by the Nordic Prime Ministers on the day of its publication. After quite intensive public discussions Wetterberg developed his proposal further by publishing a second article which focused on a more detailed and practical actionplan towards a realization of his idea.

Aim of this paper is a review of Gunnar Wetterbergs proposal of establishing a Nordic Union between the countries of the Nordic region. Based from this concept and its origin in the contemporary context of Regionalism, European Integration and Nordism a Narratives Policy Analysis will be provided. Intentions, backgrounds and the time of this draft idea are for this purpose to be set in relation to the topic of Nordic co-operation within and beyond the European Union. Major lines in the public debate on this issue as well as its impacts have to be summarized and as far as possible practical reasons and arguments for and against an institutionalized realization of such a Nordic federation state will be discussed.

2. An European Dimension

In dealing with more general considerations at a Geosphere-level it is always relevant to understand the individual local set-up and structure which enable political dynamics and its processes, to understand its effects on the continental Noosphere-level. Regarding to the everlasting discussions about a definition of ‘Europa’ one have to consider that according to the historiographical concepts a wide range of definitional approaches existed. The ancient Greek mythology of the Phoenician princess Europa, who was abducted by Zeus in bull form and taken to the island of Crete, not to the mainland as aspected, where she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon, wasn´t interpreted by Homer as a geographical designation. Later stood Europa for the mainland of Greece until around the year 500 BC its meaning had been extended to lands to the north, which could be interpreted as a first development of an integrational process into the term Europe. Beside to the Arabic Maghreb meaning “evening, west” (“ereb”) we can follow the majority etymology that the name Europe has derived from the Greek words for broad (“eurys”) and face (“opsis”). A broad face, which can reflect and characterize the continental idea in the latemedieval ages as well as today in a well balanced way.

The nowaday geographical term of an Eurasian continent points out how difficult it is to define frontiers and borders. Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary - in a few sources some territories are not included, while other sources include them. Numerous geographers consider Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s southern border with Iran and Turkey’s southern and eastern border with Syria, Iraq and Iran as the boundary between Asia and Europe because of political and cultural reasons. In the same way, despite being close to Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta are considered as a part of Europe.

This description is simplified. Subregions, such as the Iberian Peninsula and the Italian Peninsula and also Scandinavia contain their own complex features, as does mainland Central Europe itself - in opposite to a concept of Central Europe. Due to the fact that these regions never acted as a closed system, the interdependencies and exchanges also have been a prerequisite for the development within these regions. The impact of economical, cultural, political and technological aspects on these developments plays hereby a key role in discussions about the centrification, localisation and especially the definition of the continent. The Mediterranean World stands here for instance at the same time beside, as well as in connexion, to the development in the Northwestern and in the Baltic region. Those, not always visable, exchanges between Mediterranean, Central- and Northern Europe in the past were crucial in fundamenting the idea of an ‘Europa Nostra’. This retroperspective is important to understand the prospected continental identity of todays Europe for achieving a collective consciousness. Also the recent developments of the European Union enlargement and integration processes are based on those several definitions of the term Europe. The case Turkey stands here as a major example for the mixture of idea, historical facts and the current common knowledge about it.

In opposition to statistical approaches of dividing also Europe into Macro-geographical regions and subregions, like Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe beside to Western Asia, as done so for instance by the United Nations geoscheme, the term Europeanization refers here to the wellknown number of related phenomena and patterns of change. - Outside the social sciences it commonly refers to the growth of an European continental identity or polity, within the field of the social sciences it deals in the politics of Europe with the continually evolving politics within the continent. Undoubtedly it is in this case a topic which is far more detailed than at other continents due to a number of factors - including the long history of nation states on the continent - by the fact that the current politics of Europe can be traced back to historical events and lines of development. Likewise geography, economy and culture have contributed substantially to the contemporary political set-up of Europe.

In pointing out similarities through structural analyzes it is therefore necessary to consider also this retro-perspective, as those circumstances are able to foster the understanding of how development processes affect on societies. Understanding Europe not only as a political network it would therefore be favourable to combine the focus on the intra-regional circumstances and conditions with its inter-regional interdependencies. Regional developments within the continent, following the guiding topic of variety in entity, in this line of argument always widespreaded their impact on other territories, like the kind of cooperation driven by the Nordic countries for instance could generate as a model for the Mediterranean countries in the future.

3. The Nordic Case in brief

Collaboration, exchange and fusions between the Nordic kingdoms have been realized through all the various historical periods in the political sphere. Internal Nordic social and political forces and ideals had been the assumption as the foreign political conditions affected these processes significant. Nobility alliances and dynastic policies had been a major driving force for this purpose in `high politics´. Although the Nordic countries look back on more than 1000 years of history as distinct political entities, the international boundaries came late and emerged gradually.

The late Viking Ages and the Middleages had witnessed a process of territorial consilidation and unification which laid the foundations for the preliminary forms of the countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Nevertheless feudalism in Scandinavia never developed to that extend as it did in the rest of Europe. In response to the economic power politics driven by the Hanseatic League in Northern Europe in the high and late middleages the dynastical power politics of especially Denmark shaped a Nordic Union (`those three realms´ – in the contemporary usage mostly known as the Union of Kalmar). This Kalmar Union unified from 1397-1523 the countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden under the auspices of the danish realm. This union was finally broken in the turmoils of a swedish struggle for independence - influenced, financed and exploited by the Hanseatic League. As the result of the dissolution of this union in 1523 the independent earlymodern nationstates of Denmark (conjuncted with Norway) and Sweden (including Finlands nowadays area) struggled as equipollent competitors until a significant demarcation in 1658. Sweden remained as a result as a superpower in Europe until the end of the Great Northern War in 1721. Norway persisted during all this time in an union with Denmark until 1814. As an european consequence of the defeat of Napoleon´s alliance Denmark was here obligated to cede Norway to Sweden, while Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained by Denmark. Finland had struggled in all this course of history between a swedish and russian dominance and occupancy, gaining finally its late independence in 1917 as a result of the revolution in Russia during the end of World War I. The union between Sweden and Norway lasted until its peaceful seperation in 1905, which in modern times marked the end of political Nordic Unions in history.

Scandinavism as a cultural movement which also expressed common political goals, played in modern politics an important role as an ideological concept. It supported the idea of Scandinavia as an unified region or a single nation, based on the common linguistic, political and cultural heritage of the Scandinavian countries. The political Scandinavism on its peak in the middle of the 19th-century paralleled struggles for unification which in this time took place in Germany and Italy. In opposition to this two cases the ambitions of a Scandinavian state-building were not successful and were not longer pursued, since a Pan-Scandinavian alliance for Denmark against Prussia in the german war for unification had failed to be formed. The highly ideals of Scandinavism were never realized, but the mental impacts of this movement remained during the following decades. A more limited functional cooperation was gradually developed towards the end of the nineteenth century. In the international system of the post-World War I period the Nordic countries gained for instance a common seat in the nationleague in 1930. During World War II Scandinavism acted in the Nordic countries as a mental unifying component against the threat of a nazi-german ideological concept of a Pan-Germanism in Europe. The german occupation of Denmark and Norway created a common background, while the collaboration of Finland had been mainly achieved due to its long past of russian dominance.

In the aftermath of World War II and it’s following process of rearrangement and redistribution of power between East and West the Nordic countries had to position themselves in this new global sphere. A concept of a Nordic Defense Community (NDC) with the intention to remain outside the two-bloc superpowers politics sphere arised at this time in the years of 1948-49. A Nordic Union based on this prospective security alliance was a possible but not realistic option in this days. Nevertheless a set of Nordic foreign politics, later called as Nordic Balance, acted towards and between the two superpowers Soviet Union and United States during the decades of the Cold War. Sweden and Finland remained in this conflict neutral while Norway, Denmark and Iceland became a member of the NATO. The Nordic Council was in this regard in 1952 originally formed in order to balance the negative effects for Nordic co-operation of the different security loyalties emerging in the years after 1949. During this Cold War period Nordic policies and diplomatic initiatives contributed through its bridge-building effects to allay the conflict between East and West to some extend. A light modification and dilution of this confrontation had been reached through this politics, in whose course Finland moved closer to Scandinavia.

The later evolution of the 20th century modern political Nordism, including all of the Nordic countries, has in addition an ideological base in the Nordic economic co-operation and integration as a kind of collaborative nationalism. The striving ambition to realize a common market through a diminution of barriers for the freedom of movement between the Nordic countries had been an integral part of this Nordic co-operation since its institutionalized foundation in the 1950ies. The Nordic Passport Union, established between 1952 and 1958, provided here quasi a kind of a frontrunner status for Europes nowadays Schengen area, which the Nordic countries later commonly joined in 1996. Diplomatic efforts towards the establishment of a tollunion between the Nordic countries had been driven in the years from 1947 until 1959. This tollunion was not realized in the end, due to the `european roject´ arising as a consequence of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The foundation of the EFTA in 1959/60 circumvented the ambitions for a Nordic solution, which led to an integration of the Nordic countries into its coverage. Nordek, a planned organisation for Nordic economic co-operation quite similar to the European Economic Community, stands in this respect as the best known example of an unsuccessful continuative form of Nordic co-operation. The proposal for this organisation, introduced by Denmarks Prime Minister in 1968, had also its roots in the years succeeding the World War II and was negotiated on realistic terms in 1969. In the end Finland didn´t joined due to its relation to the Soviet Union and Denmark entered the EEC which remained Sweden, Norway and Iceland unable to ratify the treaty which had been prepared.

The original duties of the Nordic Council as an inter-parliamentarian cooperation forum had been extended through the inception of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1971, which is responsible for inter-governmental cooperation. The structures of a Council which has not any formal power remained until today. Each government has to implement any common decisions through its country´s legislative assembly

The end of the Cold War by the fall of the iron curtain in 1989 and the resulting abolishment of dividing lines between the memberstates of the Nato and the former Warsaw Treaty affected exceptionally the countries within the broader scope of Northern Europe. The reestablishment of exchange and cooperation across this former barriers have substantially changed the set-up for whole Europe in the early 1990ies. The Nordic countries had to react on this challenge in an active manner. The foundation of the intergovernmental forum of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in 1992 and a plenty of additional formal as well as informal organizations and networks - promoting, executing and supporting the collaboration and cooperation within Northern Europe and beyond - served to align the structures according to the regional needs in a multipolar world. Proposed efforts to associate the Baltic States on the basis of a fullmembership into the existing Nordic co-operation structures had been internally denied, which remained those countries, beside to the close Nordic linkages to all of the neighbouring countries in the Baltic Sea area, as exceptionally important partners. The Nordic countries had in this contemporary past been strongly encountered with the process of European Integration. For decades lasting sceptical positions were dominating until Finland and Sweden in 1995 finally followed Denmark into the EU. Those Nordic EU-member states acted in the time therafter as an advocat for a rapidly inclusion of the Baltic States into the European Union.

The Nordic countries had in this context often been described as exceptional and quite similar to one another in comparison with other countries. The following values and institutional and political characteristics are here typically highlighted: democratic corporatism and a consensual political climate; ethnic, cultural, and religious homogeneity; strong popular movements and mass-based political parties in close collaboration with trade unions; export-dependent economies,; egalitarianism by means of universal and genrous social insurance systems and public welfare systems, and proactive labour market and industrial policies. This so called Nordic or Scandinavian Model advocates for this purpose a government funded welfare state, an egalitarian taxsystem and strict jobregulation. Whether the comparisons are based on the countries political economies, civil societies or democratic systems, considerable similarities between the Scandinavian countries´ institutional qualities are highlighted. Those political and social structures of the Nordic nations, based on the background that it has been a dominant philosophy of democratization in Scandinavia to bring decisions as close as possible to the individual, have in the last decades in other parts of Europe often been considered as role models for government and public policy. On the basis of their common historical and cultural background and their quite similar identities, the Nordic countries have in the second half of the 20th century undergone a continous process of exchange, cooperation and administrational collaboration which remains them today as the most integrated geographical part of the countries in Europe.

One of the main characteristical features of the Nordic co-operation developed during the Cold-War-era had been the circumstance of driving forces which came and derived from the civil societies of each of this countries. In opposition to the development of the relations between the EG-countries in this time, the Nordic co-operation had in this way not developed as a consequence of a process mainly driven by the higher national political spheres or the parliaments. Due to this circumstance the Nordic co-operation had not been developed exceptionally streamlined, which led some authors even to regard this historical evolution as a Zigzag-course. Nordic co-operation is today one of the world´s most extensive forms of regional collaboration, involving Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the three autonomous areas of Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland, which also widespreaded its impact on the international scene through close collaborations e.g. in the UN and the World Bank.

In spite of this background this co-operation has until today not led to a common direction on the countries' memberships in the European Union, the EMU and the NATO due to the fact that domestic politics are still dominating. Norway and Iceland are currently only members of the NATO, Finland is a fullmember of the EU and the EMU, Sweden is only a member of the EU, while Denmark participates in the NATO and the EU. In consequence of the processes of the European Integration the foundations of a distinction by the institutionalized Nordic co-operation have been questioned during all the years of this post-Cold-War-era: To what sense and to what extend should the Nordic co-operation continue as a special case, if the same results are to be achieved on the next level by an European Union? Tasks and policies of the European Union are in some fields still overlapping with those of the Nordic Council. The Nordic co-operation has since a reform of the Nordic Council in 1995 here been regarded as a bridge between EU-member and non-EU-member states, which had created the political background for the last years. The intensified co-operation on the European Union-level driven by the Nordic countries in the late 1990ies, as a result of the EU-accessions of Finland and Sweden, refrained in the first instance from a Nordic grouping at the european and also at the international scene. Following experiences of some lacks in influence in key political issues, for instance in the days of debates about a Core-Europe, these countries seems now to some extend striving onto a sub-regional renaissance of its Nordic co-operation.

Currently we are therefore witnessing a process where the substance and forms of the Nordic co-operation will and have to be adjusted to the changed and changing political and economic global conditions in the European Union and in the International System.

Within the frame of the European Union and its through the EEA and the EFTA conjuncted countries deserves this process a closer attention in the view of a largescale political Union still under construction. At a wider geographical perspective within Northern Europe the Baltic Sea Region, definable for instance as the macro-region to be developed further at the European-Union-level, received also as an element of this federation shaping process between 2007 and 2009 its own political commitment by implementing a guiding line, named a Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region for its future development. (Re)Shaped into existence over twenty years by innumerous multilevel network initiatives, the Nordic countries have always been a driving force in facilitating the (non-Nordic) regional umbrella set-up of the Baltic Sea Region. As the Nordic co-operation within this frame is acting clearly as a crucial base, questions about the implications of the proposed establishment of a Nordic federation state within this region are distinctive relevant.

As the EU Baltic Sea Strategy neither shaped new cooperation forms in this region nor constructed new institutions or organizations (on all levels - intergovernmental, regional, non-state, private sector, civil society, et.al.), the existing formal and informal structures within Northern Europe remained. As different possible approaches towards less, new or more major organizations or institutions within this BSR, proposed so occassionally since the fall of the iron curtain, could have caped the Nordic co-operation framework in a way, the result also determines the structural background for the Nordic vision proposed by Gunnar Wetterberg in a positive way, so that those crossing perspectives have to be taken into consideration.

4. Conceptual Frameworks

The approach of choosing the Kalmar Union as a paradigm can in the first hand be interpreted as a regress to the mental component of this Nordic Union, since it doesn´t reflect the historical reality. Similar non-historical approaches have been used in the past as for instance perceiving the Hanseatic League as a role model for the Baltic Sea cooperation or even for the regional integration in the European Union.

To draw on the historical example of Switzerland as a sample, as done so by Wetterberg, the starting point for a Nordic Union have to be the inception of a confederation between the Nordic countries, which successively would have to be developed towards a federation state.

For a start it would be therefor also an empirical question to define indicators for the contemporary and future potential for a statebuilding of the Nordic region. For this purpose it would be a task to define a typological model for identifiying variables of Nordic cohesion as well as indicators for an increase or decline in the Nordic identity and the collective consciousness. In this context the proposal can to some extend be perceived as an option out in the light of emerging regions in an accelerating globalisationprocess. The declining importance of territorial or national boundaries stands in practice hereby linked to immaterial territorities in the form of networks and cooperations. This analysis will leave out the informal structures, but is fully aware of the importance of a close co-operation between the formal and informal structures, which is strongly required for the benefit of all countries within the broader scope of Northern Europe. In interaction with the nation states and local institutions, the evolving structures of global governance and regional cooperation constitute a multi-level system of global politics, in which the interfaces between these levels are of growing importance.

Lines of distinction between exclosure and inclosure are thatswhy not drawable that easily and clearly anymore. Region-building as a result of an internal political will or as a consequence of external political press had in the past in this way determined the possible `inside-out´ or `outside-in´ approaches as dominating in studies in this fields. The evolution of Regionalism has in the last years seen a typological shift. The concept of a Meso-region, a geographic region in between the national and the local size, had dominated in Europe in the 1990ies. The post-Millenium concept of a Macro-region, as a geopolitical subdivision that encompasses several traditionally or politically defined regions, is on the contrary flexible to adapt its scope according to different specific thematics, to suit more the needs of globalization. The first practical laboratory for this concept is currently taking place at the Baltic Sea Region which will be followed by each one for the regions of the Danube, the Alps and probably the Mediterranean. Nevertheless traditional subdivisions in the style of a classification between Micro-regions and Sub-regions remain. - A microregion serves for formal and informal geographic divisions on the local level, while a subregion is basically a conceptual unit which derives from a larger region or continent and is usually based on location. The definitions of a subregion may hereby vary according to its respective point of view and function. A subregion Northern Europe is in this regard for instance defined by the United Nations geoscheme as containing the Nordic countries plus the Baltic States as well as the UK and Ireland. A strict geographical definition could in opposition also circumscribe the Scandinavian peninsula, while the set-up of the Nordic countries as a subregion is determined by a grouping of this states which are constituting a region within Northern Europe.

As Wetterberg was proposing a federation state in the international system one have to consider the term subsystem, not least due to its political and administrative concerns. Federalism as a territorial twin of democracy in this regard would mean to some degree a kind of elongation of the existing inter-parliamentary Nordic co-operation. As a theoretical concept a subsystem would here be definable for instance on its characteristical features of exclusiveness, intensity of interaction, formalization in the level of organization and its influence on the contextual major system. Due to the position of Denmark, Sweden and Finland this major system is constituted by the EU. Sub-systems have comparative advantages in a number of areas such as culture, education, transport, certain environmental policies and even aspects of defence, which also would be in line with the argumentation used by Wetterberg. Since the proposed federation intends to serve as a transformator for practical objectives one is therefor able to apply to the specification of a functional sub-system. One of the characteristics of such sub-systems is viz a feature which allows the includation of states which are not (formally) members of the major regional integration system - the European Union.

In the light of Region-building as a parallel necessity to State- and Nation-building the Baltic Sea Region had in this regard in the early 1990ies by some scholars been interpreted as a competing project to the Nordic region in terms of its potential for State- and Nation-building. Since the Baltic Sea Region neither was intended to do so, nor has it moved into this direction (yet), the states of the Nordic region as a Union would structurally remain a subregion within the concept of the Baltic Sea Region and perspectively form a political subsystem within the European Union.

The idea and option of a Nordic bloc within the European Union in this respect is not new at all. In the turmoils of the political rearrangements in Europe in 1990 Denmarks Minister of Foreign Affairs used the argument that such a bloc would have more voting power in the Council of Ministers than an united Germany would have, to encourage its Nordic counterparts for a membership in the European Community.

In opposition to this integrational approach the Nordic co-operation had in the past by EU-sceptics often been regarded as a favoured alternative model to the European Union. The best known sample of ideas for a Nordic Union for this purpose was presented by a movement of swedish EU-opponents in 1992. Its leading author compared the situation of Canada in relation to the US with those of the Nordic countries in relation to the EG / EU in order to propose a Nordic federation state as an alternative to a membership in the European Union.

The proposal submitted by Gunnar Wetterberg is hence not new at all, since it in the end used the same conceptual construction leveraged into the current political situation. Wetterberg, who is recently director of the political and social studies section of the Swedish Confederation of Professionell Associations (SACO) - a trade union confederation representing 600.000 academics, is here to be set into relation: He can not be characterized as an EU-sceptic at all, but as an sympathizer for a sophisticated and limited supranationality. The integration of Central and Eastern Europe is in his opinion the major historical duty of the European Union.

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A Nordic Union? - A review of the Gunnar-Wetterberg-proposal
Uppsala University
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Raumplanung- und Regionalforschung, Norden, Nordeuropa, Föderalismus, regionale Integration, Kooperation im Ostseeraum
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Thomas M. Scholz (Author), 2010, A Nordic Union? - A review of the Gunnar-Wetterberg-proposal, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/196633


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