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Kirsi-Marja Lehtelä
What unites us? – Nordic countries continue discussing

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Publication date 30.10.2018 13.54 | Published in English on 31.10.2018 at 8.38

The 70th Session of the Nordic Council starts this week in Oslo and its agenda includes various topics, such as culture, environment, sustainable development, international cooperation, and other matters relating to the current challenges facing our welfare states.

Nordic cooperation is still lively and deals with topical issues, as it always has done. This week, the session will agree on and outline cooperation activities, even at intergovernmental level. What is it that still connects Finnish people with our neighbours? Besides historical and cultural connections, we share the same view of the concept of welfare state and its universal nature, financing base and development needs. In international comparisons of citizens' welfare, we are usually among the top countries together with the other Nordic countries. This has not been achieved by chance but as the result of a long-term cooperation, discussions and comparisons.

Nordic Region 2020 is a project carried out by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

The project is continuing the traditional culture of discussion within the Nordic cooperation. Its objective is to strengthen the Nordic cooperation between administrative sectors and to compare policy solutions relating to the challenges of the Nordic welfare states.  These discussions seek solutions to achieve welfare for our citizens and emphasise social fairness, gender equality and innovation. Being Nordic also includes some kind of a missionary dimension - as culture researchers have noticed. Therefore, the Nordic Region 2020 project also considers how these solutions supporting social sustainability could be spread even internationally.

But is this Nordic way outdated and naïve - or could the human Nordic values and objectives still function as a basis for new policy solutions that promote social sustainability?  The Nordic societies are based on well-functioning social relations: cooperating and producing social sustainability together is quite easy between these rather uniform cultures and countries with small populations. For bigger countries with more heterogeneous populations, it would be more difficult. 

We still have various forums and social mechanisms that help to bring up new views and give them due attention in decision-making.

These practices work very well in promoting social sustainability. Today's changes and challenges, such as internationalisation, immigration and ICT technology, have impacts on reproduction of social relations and therefore also on social sustainability.

The Nordic human approach is being put to the test in the midst of all these changes. One could ask whether it still is a principle worth holding on to. In addition, how could we move forward on that road and what should we do?

We can also see new challenges as opportunities for new social developments. 

The Nordic Region 2020 project organised a youth café in their launching conference, and the visitors to the café answered unambiguously:  "We can affect the direction of development and make the world better." We must hold on to the optimism and trust of these teenagers from various schools in the region of Turku!

Balancing between individual freedom and an inclusive community in a successful way lies at the core of the Nordic human approach and of the welfare states based on that approach. However, we need to seek good solutions for the balancing in future too, together and through discussions with others. I wish the very best of luck and every success for the Session of the Nordic Council!

Kirsi-Marja Lehtelä
Senior Planning Officer, Nordic Region 2020

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