The Nordic Council, which was formed in 1952, is the official interparliamentary body in the Nordic region. Finland joined in 1955. The Council makes recommendations to the Nordic governments and Council of Ministers. At annual sessions these in turn report on the measures that have been taken in the light of recommendations. The names "Council" and "Council of Ministers" often cause confusion. The Nordic Council is a forum where parliamentarians and government representatives can meet. The Nordic Council of Ministers, on the other hand, is the official forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the region. It was established in 1971, 19 years after the creation of the Nordic Council, through amendments to the Helsinki Treaty. The coordinating organ in Finland is the Secretariat for Nordic Cooperation at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Council of Ministers has a rotating Presidency, which is held by each of the Nordic countries for one year at a time.
Finland sends 18 delegates to the Nordic Council, plus two from Åland. All of these have alternates. The members of the Finnish delegation participate in the Council's work year round, in committees and the Presidium. The delegation also meets regularly on its own. Its secretariat is part of Parliament's International Department.
The Nordic Council includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the autonomous territories of Åland, the Faeroe Islands and Greenland. Countries are represented in the Council by MPs who have been chosen by their national or regional parliament. The Nordic Council has 87 seats: Denmark (including the Faeroe Islands and Greenland), Finland (including Åland), Norway and Sweden have 20 each and Iceland has 7. Governments name their own representatives to Council sessions. The MPs from each country form a national delegation, which has a secretariat in its own parliament.
Cooperation in the Nordic Council and Council of Ministers is down to earth. The goal from the start has been to facilitate the free movement of citizens, enterprises, goods and capital between the Nordic countries. Barriers have been lowered through passport-free travel, the abolishment of border formalities and cross-border cooperation. Work to this end is still going on. To promote mobility, various scholarships and exchange programmes have been set up. Social welfare and educational systems have been harmonised to make it easier for people to move from one Nordic country to another. To further its objectives the Nordic Council makes recommendations to the Nordic governments or the Council of Ministers.
Traditional areas of Nordic cooperation such as culture, education and research, have been joined by consumer matters, the environment and cooperation with neighbouring countries and regions. During the 1990s the Nordic countries developed closer relations with the Baltic countries, Russia and other countries in the Baltic Sea region as well as international organisations in neighbouring regions. The goal of international cooperation is to ensure stability throughout the region by preventing environmental disasters, improving maritime safety and preventing the spread of crime and contagious diseases. Another important goal, particularly in the Baltic Sea region, is to open energy markets and safeguard energy distribution in a crisis.
The Nordic Council's most important decision-making body is the Ordinary Session, which takes place annually in the autumn. If necessary, extraordinary sessions can also be arranged. At sessions parliamentarians meet government representatives, discuss timely issues and decide what recommendations should be made to governments and the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers submits reports on the measures that have been taken to implement Council recommendations. In recent years, the foreign and defence ministers have also submitted their own reports. Sessions are unique, since they allow parliamentarians to come in direct contact with the governments of all the Nordic countries. Recently the Nordic Council has also held annual Theme Sessions that focus on a particular subject area.
Nordic cooperation is based on several treaties that have made over the decades. The most important of these is the 1962 Helsinki Treaty, which outlines the objectives of cooperation and how it is organised. The Helsinki Treaty has been amended over the years, for example in 1971, when the Nordic Council of Ministers was established. Other important agreements concern the waiving of passport requirements (1954), social security (1955) and a common labour market (1954).
The Nordic Council's Rules of Procedure govern the way in which it works.
Between Ordinary Sessions, the members of the Nordic Council meet in committees and the Presidium. The Council has four specialist committees: Committee for Knowledge and Culture in the Nordic Region, Committee for a Sustainable Nordic Region, Committee for Growth and Development in the Nordic Region, Committee for Welfare in the Nordic Region.
The Presidium meets regularly and directs the work of the Nordic Council between sessions. It is responsible for foreign and security policy and the Council's external relations, among other things. The Presidency rotates annually.
Some 30 institutions are financed through the joint Nordic budget. Additional information about these institutions and the scholarships and grants they award is available on their websites.
The secretariat of the Nordic Council and the secretariat of the Nordic Council of Ministers share premises in Copenhagen. They have a joint information department, which maintains the multilingual www.norden.org website.
Each national delegation also has its own secretariat. The Finnish secretariat is part of Parliament's International Unit.