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Nordic Cooperation – 60 Years Since the Signing of the Helsinki Treaty of 1962

Picture of Nordic flags on table.

Nordiska flaggor [Nordic flags]. Photo by Flickr user Norden2011 Kuvat (March 23, 2012). Used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

On March 23, 1962, the Helsinki Treaty on Nordic cooperation was signed by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, a date that has become known and celebrated as “Nordic Day.” The treaty legally entered into force on July 1, 1962.

The Treaty formalized the longstanding Nordic collaboration and in particular the role of the Nordic Council that had been created 10 years earlier. Following a proposal from the Danish Parliament, the parliaments of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden collaborated in an inter-parliamentary Nordic Council starting in the fall of 1952 on issues such as a common passport union. Finland later joined in 1956. Currently, the Nordic Council has 87 members, selected from the Nordic national parliaments and nominated by party groups, and is headed by Secretary General Kristina Hafoss from the Faroe Islands. The council’s work is governed by the rules of procedures and most work is done in committees. Nordic Council issues under consideration and decisions taken are found on their webpage. The countries have deepened their cooperation through the Åland document of 2007. Today, the Nordic Council also has offices in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as part of the Nordic parliamentary collaboration with the Baltic states, and in Brussels, to facilitate contact between the Nordic Council and the European Parliament.

The Helsinki Treaty signed in 1962, which has been amended several times over the years, most recently in 1995, serves as the legal framework for cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Specifically, it provides for legal cooperation between the Nordic countries. (Arts. 2 to 7.) It also established a principle of equality between citizens of each Nordic country, meaning that Nordic residents are entitled to the same benefits as citizens when residing in another Nordic country (article 15) and enjoy a freedom to reside and work in each country. When drafting laws and regulations, legislators of any Nordic country must treat citizens of other Nordic countries equal to its own citizens. (Art. 2.)

An amendment to the treaty in 1971 created the Nordic Council of Ministers, the official body for cooperation between the national governments, including the home rule governments of Greenland and the Faroe Islands and the regional government of Åland. (Art. 60.) The presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers rotates between the countries and, as specified in article 66, the Council of Ministers sets its own procedural rules, but the treaty provides that all material decisions must be unanimous. The Nordic Council of Ministers consists of 11 ministerial councils specializing in different policy areas. Their meetings and protocols are available online. The Nordic Council of Ministers is headed by a secretary general, Paula Lehtomäki, who is the first woman in the post. A general vision plan for 2030 is available at their website.

Notably, the Helsinki Treaty does not provide for military or defense cooperation. However, the Nordic countries are part of Nordefco, which provides for collaboration in the area of defense based on a 2009 memorandum of understanding between the countries.

[Nordic military men negotiating with Romans over gold, silver bowls and coins] (1910). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.45639/. 

History of collaboration

The Nordic countries have a long history of cooperation and were linked together in the Kalmar Union, which joined the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (Finland was part of Sweden and Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Greenland were part of Norway) under one king, Erik of Pomerania, in 1397. The union was credited to the Danish Queen Margaret I, and lasted until 1523, when Sweden was united under Gustav Vasa, brought on by, among other things, the Stockholm Blood Bath of 1520.

Throughout history, legal scholars and lawyers from the Nordic countries have met to discuss legal matters. The Nordic law meeting (Nordiska juristmötet) in Copenhagen in 1872, which was the first where representatives from Finland also were present, is viewed as the first continuous meeting of the Nordic states to discuss law. Lawyers from the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) had been meeting for several years already.

Through these meetings and interactions, legal cooperation was developed over several years, resulting in, among other things, a harmonized laws on sales, the early 20th century köplagar (Sale of Goods Acts). This collaboration on law continues in the Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers today, as does the annual Nordic Law Meeting, which this year will be held in Iceland. (For more on the history of the Nordic law meetings see Henrik Tamm, De Nordiske Juristmøder 1872-1972.)

I hope I have sparked your interest in Nordic legal cooperation. If you want to read more come and visit us in person or online!

Here are some titles from the Library of Congress collection:

Overview of the Nordic country collections at the Library of Congress:

Online resources related to the Nordic country law collections at the Law Library of Congress:

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