Much to gain through closer Nordic cooperation

The Nordic region was in focus at this year’s annual Göteborg Book Fair, held 27-30 September. This was in honour of the 60th anniversary of Nordic cooperation as well as the 50th birthday of the Nordic Statistical Yearbook, which was duly celebrated at the stand of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. NordForsk organised three successful presentations on the Nordic stage, with the topics freedom of expression amidst extremism, climate challenges, and diet.
Much to gain through closer Nordic cooperation

Fifty years ago, the average Nordic resident ate 80 kg of potatoes and 61 kg of meat per year. Today those averages are 54 kg of potatoes and 80 kg of meat. A comparison between the Nordics and the US shows that US residents eat roughly twice as much meat as people in the Nordic countries. 

“Some of the most striking figures are the changes in longevity,” says Sören Holmberg, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg and well-known elections commentator on Swedish television. He was interviewed by Bodil Tingsby, Head of Communications for the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Council.

“Looking back to 1913, when Sweden introduced its old-age pension scheme, the retirement age was 67 years – and average lifespan was just 59 years. Today, on average, men live 79.8 years and women live 83.7 years in Sweden and Iceland, with Norway, Finland and Denmark just slightly behind them. In the past 50 years, life expectancy in the Nordic countries has risen by 4.3 years for men and 8.9 years for women.” 

Professor Holmberg also pointed to alcohol consumption rates, which have risen sharply throughout the Nordic region, particularly in Denmark and Finland. He believes this can be explained by changes in legislation and new import regulations.

All the Nordic countries score very high on surveys of life satisfaction among residents.

“It appears that the higher the taxes and the more expensive the alcohol, the happier people are,” joked Professor Holmberg. “But of course the reason people in the Nordic countries are satisfied with their lives is that we have a welfare society that provides free education and health care services and much more.”

To get a picture of life 50 years in the future, Ms Tingsby moderated a discussion with Professor Holmberg, Jan Erik Enestam, who is Director of the Nordic Council as well as a longtime member of parliament in Finland and former government minister, and Silvia Modig, a member of parliament in Finland and Vice-President of the Nordic Council. 

Jan Erik Enestam was asked, “When you look back, have we moved in the direction you’ve wanted?”

“Part of our dream was, for example, to be able to afford as many cars as we have today. But I believe we have reached a saturation point. Perhaps there will be a few more vehicles in the future, but the greatest change will likely be that we convert to more environment-friendly vehicles,” he replied.

“I hope our consumption will change in the future,” added Silvia Modig. “We don’t need to increase our meat consumption further. I’m also concerned about unemployment among young people. I believe it is absolutely necessary to renew many of our welfare schemes.”

When the panel members were asked to identify the most important challenges ahead, Sören Holmberg pointed to climate change. He also stressed the importance of continuing to strive for gender equality as well as economic and social equalisation.

“In climate and energy,” answered Jan Erik Enestam, “the Nordic countries have technologies that can complement each other’s strengths. Iceland has thermal energy, Sweden and Norway hydropower and Finland bioenergy, to name a few examples.”

“All the Nordic countries have ageing populations,” said Silvia Modig, “and I believe this could become a major challenge for Nordic societies in the future – particularly if unemployment among young people climbs.”

“Can we better meet these challenges together?” asked the moderator in closing.

“Yes, absolutely,” answered Silvia Modig. “The Nordic countries have everything to gain by working together more closely, and with the Baltic States as well.”

NordForsk at the Göteborg Book Fair

NordForsk was the principal organiser of three events at this year’s book fair. On Friday, Gudmund Hernes spoke about how the Nordic region should address global climate challenges. There was a strong turnout for his talk, which was based on the NordForsk publication “Hot Topic - Cold Comfort. Climate Change and Attitude Change”.

On Saturday, Britt-Marie Drottz Sjöberg took part in a panel discussion on freedom of expression in light of recent years’ trend towards extremism expressed in blogs and Internet fora. Professor Drottz Sjöberg has been involved in preparatory activities in the field of societal security, a field in which NordForsk is considering a new initiative.

On Sunday, Anja Olsen spoke to a large audience about how foods can prevent chronic diseases. Dr Olsen is a researcher affiliated with a project on food, nutrition and health at Nordic Health - Whole grain food (HELGA), a NordForsk-funded Nordic Centre of Excellence (NCoE).

Text and photo: Dag Inge Danielsen/Marius Hagen

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