The Nordic Region on Top of the World

On May 13, the leaders of the Nordic countries will meet with President Obama in the White House. The Nordic countries have been a subject of debate in the presidential nomination campaigns, to the joy of some Americans and the skepticism of others. Some consider 'the Nordic Model' to be viable for American society, while others see it as radical and remote. However, many of the issues touched upon in the presidential nomination campaigns, and which will be discussed by President Obama and the Nordic leaders, are what we in the Nordic region regard as some of our core values.

On the agenda at the meeting are ways to counter terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism, how to protect the environment, how to cooperate and coordinate on Arctic issues, promotion of the Global Health Security Agenda, and overall sustainable development. Another pressing issue is how to address the migration and refugee crisis in a humane and compassionate way.

What do the Nordics have to offer on these issues?
The Nordic region comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, along with the autonomous areas of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aaland. Geographically, the region borders Germany to the south, Russia to the east, and extends north into the Arctic, so we are literally on top of the world. However, we are on top of the world in other ways too.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that, in 2020, the top ten global skills will include complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, coordination with others, people management, and cognitive flexibility. Four Nordic countries are in the top ten of the Global Creativity Index. In the top-ten listing of countries with the best work-life balance, three are Nordic. Four of the top ten in the Global Gender Gap Index are Nordic countries. The World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders places four of the Nordic countries in the top ten. And finally, on the list of the world's most optimistic countries, i.e. those that think the world is, despite everything, getting better, we find four Nordic countries.

The fact is that the Nordic countries are consistently 'on top of the world' with regard to skills and competencies needed in the future. These virtues and skills are central to the Nordic way of thinking, and part of the success of the Nordic Model, a model that we want to share with the US.

What is the explanation for the high rankings?
The Nordic Council of Ministers, the official inter-governmental body for cooperation between the Nordic countries, has identified five core values to promote the Nordic region - openness, trust, creativity, sustainability and compassion. The Council has named the concept the 'Nordic Perspective'.

The core value I particularly want to highlight here is trust. In 2014, a comprehensive study of the Nordic countries ('The Nordic Model - challenged but capable of reform') concluded that, compared to people in other parts of the world, Nordic citizens show significantly higher levels of trust towards other people, politicians, the government, and the legal system. Trust is important in a modern society. Trust enables us to rely on each other. Trust knits communities together. Trust provides the basis for general economic productivity and growth.

Over a long period, the Nordic governments have delivered relative economic equality, low levels of corruption, and a well-functioning public administration that enjoys the legitimacy of its citizens. These are some of the ingredients in the recipe for the Nordic Model.

The Nordic populations have some of the highest levels of education in the world, and there is strong Nordic commitment to collaborate on research with international partners on all of today's societal challenges. Nordic know-how has a potential that could be utilized much more in meeting global challenges that need joint solutions.

As a strong believer in the Nordic Perspective and Nordic cooperation, and international relations in general, I sincerely believe that there are a number of entry points for innovative cooperation between the US and the Nordics. This applies to all the issues that President Obama and the Nordic leaders will be discussing... and more. I also believe that the discussions will prove valuable in promoting and deepening an already well-established partnership.

Dagfinn Høybråten
Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers