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EU: Nordic Group Increasing Coordination

The European Union's three Nordic members -- Sweden, Finland, and Denmark -- are increasing their coordination with a view to having a greater joint impact on EU affairs. Fellow Nordic states Norway and Iceland, which are not EU members, will also be included to a degree in this new cooperation, and eventually the three Baltic states are expected to join in as well. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke reports that such a large grouping of northern states should have increased influence within the Union.

Prague, 18 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Nordic members of the European Union -- Sweden, Finland, and Denmark -- are now considering ways of working more closely together, so as to increase their influence within the EU.

They also plan to incorporate into this enhanced coordination, where possible, fellow Nordics Norway and Iceland, which are not EU members. The three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which have increasing links with the Nordic group, and who will themselves soon be EU members -- can also expect to be drawn into this grouping.

A senior Swedish official tells RFE/RL that the decision to enhance coordination was taken at an informal meeting early this month of the region's prime ministers at the Finnish town of Imatra. Present were five premiers -- from the three EU members, plus Norway and Iceland.

The official, Stefan Noreen, who holds the rank of ambassador within the Swedish prime minister's office, said those gathered at the Imatra meeting decided that there should be a meeting of prime ministers of the three EU members next month in Sweden to discuss concretely how to strengthen Nordic coordination.

Another decision at Imatra was that all five premiers -- from the EU three, plus Norway and Iceland -- would in turn discuss the possibilities for broader coordination at a meeting in Copenhagen in late October.

Noreen said the exact scope and areas of such Nordic cooperation still had to be defined, hopefully by the September meeting in Sweden. It's envisaged that this coordination, in the first instance, would take place between the EU-member trio in the run-up to EU summits. Noreen said:

"Of course the purpose [is] to try to have more of an impact on EU decisions, in matters where we have a common position. And I think there are a number of issues in which the Nordic countries are very close, [although] not on all issues. Finland, for one, is a member of [the EU's] monetary union. Sweden and Denmark are not. "

Noreen said it's not yet clear to what extent the budding policy of enhanced coordination can be applied to the Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- in advance of their accession to the EU. But he noted that in any case Sweden's policy is one of encouragement to the Baltics.

"The Baltic countries do take part [already], and they will be coming to the meeting I referred to in Copenhagen at the end of October. They are not formal members of the Nordic cooperation [council] but they certainly have a strong interest, and there is also a strong interest in the Nordic side to involve them more."

In Brussels, political analyst Marius Vahl of the Center for European Policy Studies sees major benefits for the Baltic countries in the ever-closer ties they are developing with their Nordic neighbors.

"When these three Baltic states become part of the EU, you will certainly have a big group of so-called Nordic states within the EU -- and they are surely going to benefit from the old Nordic members' experiences in the EU. The fact that they have this kind of patronage, which most other candidates do not have, is going to be an advantage for the three Baltic states".

So what exactly are the areas in which the Nordics can hope to influence the EU through enhanced coordination? So far, says analyst Vahl, their influence on their fellow EU members has been modest. But he says, nevertheless, they are strong in particular areas of activity that are relevant to the EU as a whole:

"[Their potential impact can be seen] especially in terms of transparency and accountability questions, where the Nordics are typically very active, and are much more accustomed to having open government than is perhaps the case [elsewhere] on the European continent. And the second point is that they usually emphasize environment. And the third issue might be equal opportunities questions."

There's also the possibility that the EU position on relations with Russia, for example, could be influenced by the Nordic states, which view ties with Moscow as of key importance.

Of course, as Ambassador Noreen notes, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have their differences of view also. Finland is regarded as strongly pro-EU integration, with an outlook similar to that of the Benelux countries, which are at the core of the EU. Sweden, by contrast, is cool to the idea of further centrism focused on Brussels. So is Denmark, and neither of them are members of the euro common currency zone.

Already at their meeting this month in Imatra, the Nordic leaders made clear that they are not trying to create a "bloc" inside the EU. But they do share many common values, and that will make the task of enhanced coordination easier.