The Nordic region is dependent on aggressive research policies
*Nordforsk's interview with Elisabeth Vik Aspaker was conducted in autumn 2016. 20 December 2016 Frank Bakke-Jensen became the new Norwegian Minister for Nordic cooperation.
Norway hopes to further develop a Nordic policy and cooperation framework that will identify the research areas that can help the Nordic region to advance.
"The Government’s political platform clearly emphasises the importance of Nordic cooperation, both in and of itself and because working together gives us a stronger voice in the European community,” states Elisabeth Vik Aspaker.
Research a vital component of the programme
The Norwegian Programme for the Presidency has three main focus areas: the Nordic region in transition, the Nordic region in Europe and the Nordic region in the world at large, and all of these have research as one of their components.
“No matter how you look at it, research will be important in all these contexts. The Nordic region is facing major challenges in connection with restructuring. We need to add new and more strings to our bows. We need smarter thinking to deal with emerging demographic trends and we must cope with future climate and energy challenges. Research is pivotal in all these areas,” she says, adding:
“Nordic research and research cooperation is an important supplement not only to national efforts, but also to major European research programmes such as Horizon 2020. Therefore, I believe that the only way to come up with effective solutions to the challenges we face is to learn from one another, share our insights and develop new knowledge.”
Seeking close cooperation on EU's legislation
Ms Vik Aspaker points out that Norway has strong interest in producing high-quality research, both by building on ongoing Nordic research projects and by establishing closer cooperation in other research areas.
“One area in particular we should be looking into is the new EU directive on the protection of personal data. What do we need to do to safeguard personal privacy and at the same time make data accessible for research in a secure manner, thus promoting further development of Nordic society? If we work together closely on how to implement this new legislation as similarly as possible it will be much easier to share registry data across our national borders,” states Norway’s Minister of Nordic Cooperation.
“If the five countries employ different frameworks for implementing this legislation,” she goes on to explain, “it may have a negative impact on research in the long term because it will impose legal and ethical barriers relating to research and personal privacy that will be difficult to surmount. We must not compromise on the rules that currently govern these activities, but it is important to seek modernisation and, thus, to make it easier to carry out research projects that benefit society using data from the Nordic countries. This is an important area for Norway.”
Positive towards the Open Access pilot
NordForsk’s report Open Access to Research Data – Status, Issues and Outlook recommends a project in which NordForsk funds a pilot programme for research activities that incorporate Open Access from start to finish.
“Open Access to research data is an important, priority area for Norway and this pilot is in line with one of the main focus areas of the Norwegian Programme for the Presidency: the Nordic region in transition. We hope that NordForsk’s pilot project is launched in 2017 and we look forward to following its progress,” Ms Vik Aspaker says.
The minister also believes it is important to conduct a close Nordic research-policy dialogue and to show an active interest in what the neighbouring countries are doing.
“I hope that the dialogue between NordForsk and the Nordic research councils is beneficial and that it helps to facilitate research cooperation in areas of strength for the Nordic region, where we can develop strategically important spheres of cooperation. This will enable us to build a bridge to Horizon 2020 and consequently to the rest of the European research community.”
The Nordic region in Europe and worldwide
Ms Vik Aspaker points out that in a time of constant change and a growing need for new solutions in Europe and worldwide, many countries are looking to Nordic countries for inspiration.
“We see that the Nordic countries have done a lot right in developing their societies. When I was in Paris recently, the European Commission hosted a seminar on what the French public sector could learn from the Nordic countries. The focus was on health, education and digitisation of public administration. This is an excellent example of the high level of interest being shown in the Nordic region.”
“I hope that the Nordic countries can help to solve the major challenges facing Europe, such as migration, integration and the green transition. In particular, I am thinking about follow-up activities to the Paris Agreement where Nordic countries have taken on considerable responsibilities. The energy supply solutions we have in the Nordic region are largely based on green production methods. The EU will also look to the well-functioning energy market and first-rate solutions we have achieved as it works to design its Energy Union,” she says.
In closing, the minister emphasises that further development of the Nordic countries is dependent on aggressive research policies.
“What we produced yesterday, and the way we produced things yesterday, may not be the way to do it in the future; research is therefore a driving force behind activities to generate and facilitate restructuring.”
The Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers
The Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers rotates between the five Nordic countries and is held for a period of one year. The country which holds the Presidency actively leads the work in the areas of cooperation.
To support this, a Programme for the Presidency is drawn up in which the political priorities for Nordic inter-governmental cooperation during the year to come is presented. The Programme is presented by the prime minister of the next country to hold the Presidency at the Nordic Council’s annual meeting.
The institutions and the bodies for cooperation are important instruments in carrying out the Programme. The country which holds the Presidency in the Nordic Council of Ministers also holds the chair for the Nordic Prime Ministers’ meetings throughout the year. The same applies for the meetings of the foreign ministers and the ministers of defence which always take place outside of the formal Nordic cooperation.
The interview was first published in NordForsk Magazine 2016.
Text: Tor Martin Nilsen
Photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org and Terje Heiestad/NordForsk