The Scandinavian telecom agencies began to meet at conferences in 1917 while the First World War was still going on. The first topic for discussion was censorship. These conferences were then held at least every second year, sometimes more frequently. Finland and Iceland joined in 1924. Top managers from the different administrations attended these conferences to exchange experiences of technological and administrative solutions, make decisions about Nordic telephone and telegraph communications, and discuss joint strategies for international issues.
The whole point of telephone links, after all, is to enable communication: international conferences and agreements were therefore essential. Even so, the Nordic contacts were in a class of their own. The Nordic countries shared their history, language, economic situation and values to a large extent, and as far back as can be traced, they had either cooperated or fought with each other, but usually the former.
The First World War left behind previously unknown obstacles. Commercial freedom was restricted, nations subjected their citizens to greater control and it became more difficult for individuals to cross national borders. The Scandinavian Monetary Union was gradually dissolved between 1914 and 1924 when, in connection with the war, the countries involved were forced to abandon the gold standard. The Swedish economist Knut Wicksell tried to preserve this cooperation by proposing a joint Nordic central bank to be placed in Gothenburg, but with no success.
In 1937, another leading Swedish economist, Eli Heckscher, published an essay in which he depicted boundless Nordic economic cooperation. The four countries should act together externally, “stand back-to-back against the rest of the world.” Heckscher proposed measures to enable joint Nordic monetary and trade policies, coordinated labor-market policies and greater movement of capital between the Scandinavian countries.
DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE DISCUSSED
The proposals of the two economists were in general agreement with the popular mood. During the inter-war years, a popular movement emerged through the Nordic Associations. Nordic brotherhood was also demonstrated time and again during and after the Second World War: a twin-town movement was created, and plans were discussed for a defensive alliance between Finland and Sweden.
The Nordic Council, the world’s first international parliamentary body, was founded in 1952. Soon afterwards, major social reforms were implemented in all the areas outlined by the leaders of the social democratic parties. Official and unofficial cooperation was initiated in hundreds of different fields, long before the European Coal and Steel Community, the EEC or the EU began to take more concrete shape.
Nordic ambitions for cooperation reached their peak in the 1960s; a draft treaty was prepared in 1969 to establish far-reaching economic cooperation between the Nordic countries in what was to be called Nordek, an alternative to working within the EEC. The Nordic states reached final agreement in April 1970 when, days before the treaty was to be signed, Finland withdrew from the project. Debate is still going on about its real reasons for doing so.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn
PER ALBIN HANSSON
KARL AUGUST FAGERHOLM