In times of hardship, examples of true cooperation like the Nordic one seem even more meaningful than during “regular” times. Yet such relationships, based on shared values and a willingness to achieve results that contribute to the mutual development and well-being of citizens, will be equally if not even more important for the Western Balkan region once the current challenges pass.
It is now almost seven decades since the Nordic Council held its first-ever session, in February 1953. As was pointed out recently by a commentator in the Nordic Labour Journal, “in the history of Nordic cooperation there are many examples of great ambitions that failed or came to nothing. But decisions have also been made that have fundamentally changed Nordic citizens’ opportunities.” This is exactly the reason why Nordic cooperation has been promoted for some time as a valuable approach to regional cooperation within the Western Balkans.
Let us for a moment consider the pros of having something similar to the passport union, which was introduced in Nordic countries as early as 1952, or the Nordic labour market that was introduced in 1954, or the common social security that was established a year later. It was fairly recently that Western Balkan leaders were discussing more or less the same issues under the scope of the “mini Schengen” idea. Today an agreement that would regulate the common labour market would be very important for remedying shortages in the labour force in these parts of the region, where investors are arriving and seeking specific skills.
Nordic cooperation is the result of a long and comprehensive process that took place within the EU but is also a consequence of the willingness of Nordic political leaders to establish strong, transparent and effective institutions, all of which are kept accountable and anchored within a political system based on the rule of law. Such an approach brought confidence, trust and a basic perception among citizens that the authorities care and stand up for them.
Confidence, trust and a basic perception among citizens that the authorities care about them can only be built on strong, transparent and effective institutions, anchored within a political system that’s based on the rule of law
Nordic societies were able to create such a space of trust by fostering genuine cross-party debates that led to a broad consensus on issues of national interests and by investing in the development of cross-border cooperation aimed at improving the quality of life of their citizens through increased economic cooperation, the dissemination of technology and access to higher education, services and culture, as summed up by one of our interlocutors.
All these advancements were based on independent institutions, inclusive parliamentary procedures, media freedom, anti-corruption, equality, innovation and environmental protection. Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, have been expressing at least a formal willingness to align themselves with these values and principles in their dialogue with the EU. Nordic countries are contributing to such advancements by supporting the development of the rule of law, strong institutions, independent media and political dialogue in our societies.
These basic principles are certainly important in times of challenges, such as the one we are all facing today, while they will be even more important during times when the economies start to recover.