Inter-parliamentary activities

Nordic Council

The Nordic Council is a regional cooperation organisation uniting members of parliament from Northern European countries: Denmark, Finland (since 1955), Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The Council was established in 1952.

Members of the Nordic Council discuss issues concerning the Nordic region. The organisation performs consultative and oversight functions with regard to cooperation between countries or among all five member states, including autonomous territories, such as the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Aaland Islands.

Members of the Nordic Council issue recommendations and voice their opinions to the Nordic Council of Ministers, which was established in 1971 as a cooperation venue for the governments of Scandinavian countries, as well as to national governments. The Nordic Council’s decisions are made in the form of recommendations and carry substantial weight. In most cases, the Nordic Council’s decisions evolve into specific actions on the part of the relevant governments, parliaments and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

In February 2018, the Nordic Council had 87 members, elected by national parliaments. The member countries have the following number of parliamentary representatives: Denmark – 16, Norway – 20, Finland – 18, Sweden – 20, Iceland – 7, Greenland – 2, the Aaland Islands – 2, and the Faroe Islands – 2. Representatives of Greenland, the Faroe and Aaland islands are elected by their respective local governments.

The Nordic Council’s bodies comprise the Plenary Session, the Presidium and committees.

The Plenary Session of the Nordic Council is convened once a year, usually in the 44th week of each year. Extraordinary or themed sessions can be convened by the Presidium or by request of at least two national governments or 25 elected representatives.

The Nordic Council member countries take turns hosting plenary sessions. Apart from members of parliament, these sessions involve representatives of Nordic countries’ governments. Plenary Session participants issue recommendations and opinions, set forth procedural regulations and stipulate the number of Nordic Council committees and their terms of reference. They also choose the time and place of the next session and elect Presidium members.

In between the annual plenary sessions the Presidium acts as the supreme decision-making body. Presidium members compile surveys on political issues, general policy issues, operation procedures and problems, as well as foreign policy and security matters. They also coordinate Nordic Council activities with events being organised by national parliaments and international organisations.

The Presidium consists of the President, the Vice-President and 12 members. Each country and party group can be represented in the Presidium. Presidium members report on their activities to the Plenary Session and approve the Nordic Council budget that is financed though contributions from the Nordic countries.

In addition, Presidium members represent the Nordic Council, make statements, convene extraordinary sessions, distribute costs between national parliamentary delegations, supervise the work of the Secretariat and the secretariats of delegations, maintain contact with other international organisations and convene meetings of the Nordic Council’s committees in between the Plenary Session’s meetings. If necessary, they establish interim commissions and working groups, draft the Plenary Session’s agenda and conduct information work.

In accordance with the current practice, the chairperson of the national delegation of a country hosting the current Plenary Session is appointed President of the Nordic Council. The Nordic Council’s Vice-President representing the same country as the President is also appointed.

The Helsinki Treaty sets forth the Organisation’s proceedings. Under the document, national governments, the Nordic Council of Ministers and Nordic Council members have the right to submit proposals to the Nordic Council.

All incoming proposals are submitted to the relevant Nordic Council committee and are later reviewed by Plenary Session participants on the basis of committee’s findings.

The Nordic Council has the following six specialised committees: Committee for Growth and Development in the Nordic Region consisting of 18 members, Committee for Knowledge and Culture in the Nordic Region (18 members), Committee for Welfare in the Nordic Region (5 members), Committee for a Sustainable Nordic Region (8 members), Control Committee (13), and Election Committee (7 members).

Committee members meet five to six times a year. Each committee may establish working groups for addressing specific tasks; the working groups and committee presidiums work between sessions and hold meetings that are timed with committees’ sessions. Committee members may also hold independent conferences, seminars and question and answer sessions.

The Nordic Council has observer status in the Inter-Parliamentary Union and is usually represented at its meetings. Nordic Council committees maintain regular contacts with the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Nordic Council has also signed a cooperation agreement with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Under this agreement, both organisations attend their respective meetings. Representatives of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg also attend Nordic Council sessions.

Nordic Council committees maintain contact and exchange information with UNESCO, the World Trade Organisation and UNICEF. Members of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly are invited to attend Nordic Council sessions.

The Nordic Council has initiated parliamentary cooperation in the Baltic Sea, the Arctic and Barents Sea regions.

Cooperation in the Baltic Sea region was launched in 1991. For this purpose, Nordic Council member states or countries of any parliament involved (at the proposal of their representatives during specific conferences) take turns hosting annual conferences. Apart from central-level parliamentary delegations, representatives of regional parliaments are invited from the conferences’ participating states, and a number of influential international organisations with observer status are also invited to attend the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference.

In 1993, the Nordic Council held a conference of parliamentarians from the Arctic region. In 1994, the Permanent Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region was established.

In addition to the activities of the Barents/Euro-Arctic Council, the Nordic Council held the first Barents Parliamentary Conference in 1999, which marked the start of parliamentary cooperation in the Barents Sea Region.

The Nordic Council’s structure and activities served as a model for establishing the parliamentary organisation of the three Baltic States called the Baltic Assembly. In 1992, the Nordic Council signed a cooperation agreement with the Baltic Assembly.

During its 1996 Reykjavik session, the Nordic Council officially formalised relations with neighbouring territories as an aspect of its activities. The term “neighbouring territories” includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as northwestern regions of the Russian Federation (the Republic of Karelia, the Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Leningrad regions and St Petersburg).

In practice, this cooperation has been ongoing since the early 1990s on the basis of working programmes.

The main cooperation areas include strengthening democracy and respect for human rights, environmental protection, sustainable development, rational use of natural resources, strengthening the foundations of the free market economy, streamlining education and preserving culture.

The Nordic Investment Bank (NIB), established on a shareholding basis by Nordic countries, plays an important role in expanding economic and environmental protection cooperation. The Bank’s goals are to issue loans and bank guarantees, in accordance with standard banking practice, for assisting investment projects and exports. In April 1997, an agreement on financial cooperation between Russia and the NIB was signed in Moscow. Russia ratified the agreement in March 1999.

Members of the Nordic Council of Ministers have drafted proposals regarding a new strategy for cooperation with neighbouring territories.

Information bureaus of the Nordic Council of Ministers play an important role in coordinating policy activities. The bureaus were established in the early 1990s in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn.

A memorandum on establishing a similar bureau in St Petersburg was signed in August 1997. However, the bureau only opened in 2014. It focuses on searching for partners to implement cooperation projects with northwestern Russia and coordinating joint projects.

After prolonged coordination, a similar bureau was established in Kaliningrad in 2006. Nordic Council officials hoped that the chiefs of these bureaus would receive diplomatic status.

These information bureaus have stopped implementing a number of projects in Russia after the Russian Ministry of Justice listed them among foreign agents. The Nordic Council of Ministers website said its information bureau in St Petersburg had been forced to suspend its projects from 23 January 2015. The Kaliningrad information bureau has also suspended its work.

The delegation of the Russian Federation’s Federal Assembly has the status of an invited foreign guest during the Nordic Council’s plenary sessions.

In October and November 2018, Norway will host the 70th Nordic Council Plenary Session. This year, Michael Tetzschner was elected Nordic Council President.

The Secretariat of the Nordic Council Presidium, as well as the Secretariat of the Nordic Council of Ministers, are located in Copenhagen.