Nordic Council

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:38 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 5:38 pm, 30th October 2002

Like other members who have spoken, I have personal connections with and considerable affection for the nordic countries. I visited Iceland once when I was a teenager and spent a large part of that time surveying the Vatnajökull glacier, which I gather has shrunk considerably since then. I have visited Norway, where I have been on holiday, climbed and been on business, and I have visited Sweden and Finland.

Donald Gorrie mentioned trying to forge closer relationships with the nordic countries as part of our partnership in the EU. We should emphasise things that we have in common, such as peripherality, poor climate and distance from markets. I visited Finland as minister with responsibility for education to look at educational links and to find out how we could apply distance learning in Scotland.

I also spent part of my life living and working in Orkney, where I was married. Anybody who has been to a wedding ceremony in Orkney or Shetland will know that a large part of the celebrations after the wedding ceremony have links to the Scandinavian countries.

I am delighted, at a personal level and on behalf of the Scottish Executive, to congratulate the Nordic Council on reaching its 50-year milestone. I know that this will be hard for the Parliament to believe, but it is a milestone that I share with the Nordic Council—1952 was clearly a very good year.

We are also pleased to recognise the achievements of the Nordic Council in terms of the social, political, cultural and economic co-operation within its region.

The Scottish Executive is sure that we can learn from on-going co-operation with the Nordic Council, including in areas referred to in its founding principles:

"to maintain and develop co-operation on legislation, culture, and in the socio-economic area, and on issues related to public transportation and environmental protection".

The participants in the Nordic Council have adopted arrangements that best suit their circumstances, just as the Parliament can be assured that the regions and nations of the islands of Britain and Ireland are already co-operating in many fields in ways that suit our particular circumstances. That co-operation is facilitated by the creation of the British-Irish Council following the Good Friday agreement.

Strand three of the Good Friday agreement clearly states:

"the BIC will exchange information, discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant Administrations".

That is similar to the founding principles of the Nordic Council that I mentioned. We have already agreed to co-operate with our partners in the British-Irish Council on a range of issues.

I will now return to the Nordic Council and its relations with the Scottish Executive on its 50th anniversary. Among the strategic objectives set by nordic ministers for the next few years is co-operation with neighbouring countries and regions. That includes Scotland, as it has in the past. We in the Executive are delighted to have co-operated extensively with nordic countries in recent years.

The nordic-Scottish action plan, drawn up following a meeting between senior officials from Scotland and the nordic countries in March 2001, represents a commitment to continued co-operation with the nordic countries. I attended part of that meeting as a minister to demonstrate our support for that co-operation.

We are involved with nordic countries in projects as diverse as the long-standing agreement on health with Finland, to which Mary Scanlon referred, and the development of the northern periphery programme, on which Scotland leads.

Under the INTERREG programme of the EU, two programmes promote co-operation with nordic countries: the North sea programme and the northern periphery programme. The North sea programme includes, among others, the East of Scotland European Consortium and representatives from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. It begins to address some of the questions that Richard Lochhead raised about the fisheries partnership across the North sea. The lead organisation for that is Aberdeenshire Council and partners include Denmark and Sweden.

The northern periphery programme includes, among others, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and, to some extent, Iceland. As I said, Scotland leads on that programme.

Examples of co-operation include interactive and innovative road management of low traffic volume roads through a technical information exchange across the northern periphery. That project proposes a three-year transnational technical collaboration across the northern periphery. The project will deal directly with roads and transport issues raised by the unique combinations of remoteness, climate, ground conditions, low traffic volumes and long distances to markets. In that context, the lead organisation is the Highland Council and partners are in Sweden, Finland and Norway.

Members will be aware—many have mentioned it—of the nordic seminar that will be held in the chamber next month. The seminar is a good example of the kind of co-operation that is called for by Kenny MacAskill in the motion. It has been arranged between the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Parliament, the Nordic Council and the nordic council of ministers. It will also include contributions from Scottish local authorities, non-governmental organisations and the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. The themes of the seminar include cultural co-operation of the sort to which Jamie Stone and many others have referred; improving public service delivery; sustainable development; and looking at developing regional co-operation between the nordic countries and the regions, nations and islands of the British isles.

The motion recognises the Nordic Council on reaching its 50th anniversary. The Scottish Executive is happy to confirm that we value our links with our nordic neighbours on the council's 50th anniversary and that we intend to continue to develop closer ties with the Nordic Council and nordic council of ministers.

We will also continue to work with our partners in the rest of the UK and in the British-Irish Council through a model that is most appropriate for our citizens. As always, we will keep an open mind to any lessons that we might learn from the experiences of our neighbours in the Nordic Council. I am sure that there are lessons that we can learn from it.

Meeting closed at 17:44.