Saturday, October 30, 2010

The United Nordic Federation

A new book by esteemed historian Gunnar Wetterberg is launched Monday in Iceland with the help of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Unlikely he was inspired by this blog... , but in it he argues for the establishment of a United Nordic Federation to better leverage the strengths of the individual countries of the region on the global marketplace:

Individually, the countries find it difficult to make their voices heard in major international bodies like the EU, G20 and UN, and so have a limited impact on world affairs. A federal Nordic state with a population of 25 million would make the Region the world’s 10th-largest economy. The Region would have a seat at the G20 table and a say in the big decisions forced upon the world by globalisation and the financial crisis.

Like it or not size matters and, being an avid reader of the international press, he has a point. A swift review of the week's Economist, Herald Tribune and Guardian reveals almost zero articles about this cutting edge region. And instead we are treated with the familiar column inches on the US and China, the (once) great powers of Europe - Germany, UK and France, Berlusconi's foibles, Spain's agony, all mixed up with the numerous trouble areas of the world. If the press aren't talking about this region, you can pretty much expect few others to do so either.

I am with Wetterberg on this one, but if he is being endorsed by the Nordic Council does this mean he also enjoys the implicit support of the 5 governments of the region? I suspect the jury is out on that one.

The debate comes to Copenhagen Friday.

What lies beneath

After following months of authoritative survey after authoritative survey ranking the Nordic countries among the best in the world, it got me thinking.

If I were to sum up the differences between the 4 Nordic countries I have most knowledge of (sorry Iceland), I think the differences can be crystallised as follows:

Danes truly believe they live in the best country in the world and are very happy that no one else in the world realises it.

Swedes truly believe the Swedish Way is the ultimate approach to life and are quite disappointed the rest of the world does not realise it.

Finns truly believe that they can overcome the harshest conditions alone and still be considered one of the best countries in the world. But not without a lot of pain in the process.

Norwegians truly believe they do not need anyone else in the world as they have everything they could possibly ever want right here.

True believers, the lot of them.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Good, but let's not get carried away

A friend has just forwarded me a gushing column about Finland by Tyler Brûlé in yesterday's FT. This is the very same correspondent who eulogised over the decline of Sweden Inc in the very same paper only 5 months ago.

So has the world's foremost lifestyle polymath really dropped Sweden for Finland? 

He has been a loyal fan of the Nordics since his early days at Wallpaper* magazine, but until now he always seems to have leaned more toward Sweden and Denmark. If Tyler has chosen to spend this winter in Helsinki then something is surely changing in the delicate Nordic balance of international branding power.

Aside from his enthusiastic description of a bright autumnal Helsinki I personally have never seen before, he also intriguingly mentions an imminent brand overhaul that will see the country "refine both its mission and messaging at home and abroad".

I have also felt the stirrings of a Finnish rise among the Nordics for some time now. The two most recent examples being Newsweek's recent announcement of Finland as the World's Best Country, and Nokia's historic appointment of a foreign CEO from outside the company.

But let's not overdo it. The Finns themselves aren't going to change overnight, even if international perceptions are starting to move that way.

To make myself clearer, here is a wonderful joke used by Finns about themselves extracted directly from Richard D. Lewis' insightful book Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf:
Martti and Pekka, two middle-aged Finnish peasants, are confirmed bachelors who have built log cabins, five km apart, deep in the forest. They rarely see each other socially, if at all.
 One day, Pekka, hearing a knock on his door, opens it and finds Martti there. He lets him in and asks,
"Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Yes" replies Martti.
Pekka makes coffee and they drink silently for twenty minutes.
"Another cup?" ask Pekka
"Yes," says Martti.
They drink in silence for another fifteen minutes. When Martti finishes his second cup, Pekka asks, 
"What brought you here?"
"My house is on fire" replies Martti.

You may be able to brand the Finns outside Finland, but you can't take the Finland out of the Finns.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The challenge of positioning Copenhagen

Picking up my usual copy of The Copenhagen Post at Kastrup the other day, I read an impressive article by Lord Mayor Frank Jensen.

In it he describes Copenhagen's 'Growth Through Internationalisation' plan "by making a special effort to attract highly skilled foreigners by improving services and infrastructure". This initiative is timely given CPH has apparently "fallen behind other comparable cities in terms of growth". 

In short, he believes a more internationally-oriented capital will enable the city to continue to compete for - and benefit from - the best of the world's talent. Or, as the new slogan goes, cOPENhagen.

Yet does the local population feel the same way?

Flicking through Politiken again at the weekend and the front page screamed 'Uvelkommen til Danmark' - an eloquent but disturbing article about how unwelcome foreign citizens both feel and are treated.

Expat network, Worktrotter, has gone so far as to conduct a survey on whether visiting residents think Danes are open to foreigners living in Denmark and found that approximately half of the foreigners surveyed don't agree with the statement. 

Perhaps most surprising is that when you isolate the Nordic residents here, they share a similar view. Albeit even more negative.

Not wanting to cause a fuss, but in order to address this blazing contradiction perhaps it might be a good idea if the authorities found a way to communicate the benefits of a multi-national workforce to the city's current inhabitants as well as its future ones?

Bloody foreigners


"If they are here and working, they are taking our jobs. If they are here and not working, they are taking our money."


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Denmark's back

Another week, another respectable global survey.

This time its Forbes Magazine's Best Countries for Business one. And this time Denmark leaves its Nordic rivals - and the rest of the world in fact - trailing in the dust.

For the 3rd year running this "thoroughly modern market economy"is the comfortable winner, with Sweden and Norway a long way down the list (in Nordic terms, at least) at 7th and 8th and with Finland outside the top ten at number 11.

Isn't it interesting that you can be the best country for business, with the world's happiest people (Gallup/Fortune), and the second best capital (Monocle), but still trail your neighbours on being the best country (Newsweek), or the most competitive (World Economic Forum).

Really, which Nordic country truly is the best? I wonder.