Our Center has been and remains a strong advocate of the importance for the Nordic countries to step forward as individual nations as well as a group, to put their mark on the way ahead for market based democracies aka the West, as it is going through a very rough patch, when its basic values are put to a test.
Theirs is a fascinating dichotomy: the Nordics form a clearly distinguishable entity (but not a block) in Europe but at the same time being very different in their history and culture, in the solutions they find to social, economic and security challenges. Just to be sure, we are talking about Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Their alliances and levels of integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions are very different as well: Finland and Sweden are (still) not members of NATO, while the other three are. Norway and Iceland are not members of the European Union, while the other three are, wielding a growing influence within Europe as it struggles to figure out the way ahead. (Mind you, the compromise new President of the European Council could very easily be Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister. You know, the smart lady who made herself world famous with the selfie with Obama.)
The interest in Nordic policies, social cohesion, mobility, productivity and cultural coolness has been growing constantly in the past few years the world over. For a reason. They can brag of political stability, even with the emergence of nationalist/extremist parties. The Nordics as a rule (spare Iceland) came out of the 2008 economic crisis in a lot better shape than most Europeans. They are also keen on searching the way to a smarter use of their resources human and financial, and are in a continuous state of reforms. Look at some of their -very diverse - efforts to find the right balance between hire and fire and personal security in order to boost competitiveness. They have embraced smart energy policies, eying energy independence, developed unique energy mixes, economic models for renewables that actually work and are sustainable, and display a deep care for the environment and climate change. They are all leaders in innovation.
The Nordics score very high when it comes to the level of education. This is a result of their understanding of the most important resources of any nation: people, social mobility and creativity. While they are all very different in their human character, all of the Nordics have a population that actually trusts the government as being in the service of the people. They are among the least corrupt in the world.
In a way, they carry the stem cells of western democracies.
Nordic countries have been a persistent pillar of the transatlantic security relationship. NATO members Denmark, Iceland and Norway, non-member partners Sweden and Finland have all played an important role in NATO's recent efforts. The "neutrality" of Sweden and Finland have not prevented them from being strong supporters.
(The growing aggressiveness of Russia begs the question: isn't it time for Sweden and Finland to consider membership in NATO? Their presence as full members would strengthen the cohesion of the Alliance. Synchronizing their security arrangements, extending NATO's Article 5 guarantees to the whole of the Nordic region, would make not only the two countries but the whole region more secure and more important players in both the Transatlantic and the European context.)
There is a special common trait, which binds them further together: quality! In governance, industrial products, way of life, education and popular culture, human relationships, the environment, housing or just furniture: the aim is to produce the best quality. This is important, because many generations in the Norden have growin up surrounded by the highest quality available, determining the quality of their citizenry.
The fascination grows even more if we consider that Norway and Finland were among the poorest in Europe before and immediately after WW II. It is a strong testament of the power of social cohesion, consensus in society, fair and uncorrupted political competition, the ability and willingness to adjust, that they caught up with their neighbors. The Nordics are a proof: the stronger the democracy, the more resilient the country. This is indeed something many European countries, some of which are toying with illiberal solutions, must understand.
All of the above calls for the Nordics to be ambitious in sharing their secrets with the rest of the world.
Small countries can sometimes make a huge difference on the global stage, but the stars must be aligned and their leaders need the good sense to grab the opportunity. The world is hungry for ideas and solutions to the challenges of the 21st Century, and some of the ones we see emerge, unlike those in the Nordics, are detrimental to freedom and democracy.
This is a historic moment, a window of opportunity for the Nordics if you will. They should not kid themselves that the interest will last forever. No time for modesty. They should get seriously ambitious about influencing the course of the west, and perhaps of the world.