Upholding the Nordic welfare model
Much of the emphasis of the Finnish Presidency this year of the intergovernmental forum of the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) focuses on strengthening the role of the Nordic countries in the management of climate change. On issues of social policy, the NCM will be dealing with the challenges posed by globalisation and the role of the Nordic welfare model. "The Nordic welfare model is an important common framework of values for equal services and opportunities," says Maria Waltari, Senior Officer at the MSAH.
Some of the key themes being dealt with this year by the NCM concerning the social and health sector involve improving Nordic cooperation in welfare and health, the free movement of citizens between the Nordic countries and the need to take a proactive role in matters of globalisation and sustainable development.
The NCM is looking at administrative reform, promoting the wellbeing of families and older people and the development of services. Finland is also pursuing Nordic cooperation on mental health. The development and competitive edge of the Nordic welfare model is being considered particularly in terms of influencing the course of globalisation.
One of the points being stressed by the Finnish Presidency is that targeted political measures in advancing the Nordic welfare model can mitigate the more adverse effects of globalisation. This envisages as wide as possible participation of citizens in society, something which is promoted by the all-inclusive approach of the welfare model.
A key issue here is to promote higher rates of employment, and it is in this area that the Nordic welfare model has a critical role to play, for example in supporting and furthering people's functional capacity. Within this the main objective is to promote health and wellbeing at work, to cut occupational accidents and diseases and to postpone early retirement.Nordic model and globalisation
The key event of the Presidency in terms of social and health policy will be the 5-6 April Conference on Nordic Welfare, which will take place under the theme "What role will the Nordic welfare model play in globalisation?" The conference will examine the impact of globalisation on welfare and whether and how it poses a threat to welfare. It will also consider how the Nordic welfare model can be made known within international forums such as the conferences of the UN and the Council of Europe.
Other social and health sectoral events of the NCM Presidency this year include a conference in April on alcohol issues, which will formulate common standpoints on alcohol policy to be pursued in the European Union and the World Health Organisation. There will be a meeting in August of the Nordic Narcotics Forum, which meets annually and which this year will highlight the role of culture in the prevention of drug use and the social exclusion linked to it. In June the Finnish NCM Presidency will hold a conference on alternatives to coercive measures in psychiatry and their consequences.
In addition the NCM will continue work to develop quality indicators for oral health care. Concerning the food sector, the main focus during the Presidency is on food safety and promoting a good standard of nutrition within the population. The Nordic nutritional recommendations will be revised, with the aim of publishing them in 2012.
On gender equality, the NCM aims to develop gender-sensitive solutions within the context of the overall theme of the Presidency on combating and adjusting to climate change. The NCM will continue its gender mainstreaming efforts in different sectors of cooperation within its sphere.
"There is a new cooperation programme on gender equality issues underway," says Maria Waltari, "on which there will be seminars in the Baltic States and in north-west Russia. The Nordic Council of Ministers has a long history of cooperation with the neighbouring regions and has information offices in the Baltic States' capitals and in St Petersburg."Upgrading the NCM's work
Waltari believes that there is room for improvement in the information available on the NCM and on Nordic issues in general. She says that there is also a need to develop the focus and procedures of the NCM's work. "Governments in all Nordic countries have to think about how sufficient their human resources are, and about what are the core issues of our joint work. What are the Nordic issues that we can benefit from?"
The MSAH's sectoral programme has inherited a fair number of long-term programmes from earlier NCM conferences, which means that there is space for only a few new ones during the Finnish NCM Presidency. They include initiatives on tackling intimate partner violence and the corporal punishment of children. The National Institute for Health and Welfare will hold a conference to create a multi-sector network on the prevention of domestic violence. In addition, ombudsmen for children from the Nordic countries will contribute to planning a campaign against the corporal punishment of children. There will also be a new project on supporting families threatened by social exclusion.Exchanges of best practices
Though regular collaboration within the EU has somewhat diminished the importance of the NCM as a decision-making organisation, there is still a clear role for Nordic cooperation.
"We gain experience from one another and learn about best practices. We also continue to have a number of Nordic agreements - on social protection, social services, on health care preparedness and the so-called Arjeplog agreement, which regulates the professional qualifications of health care personnel."
According to the NCM's rules the official languages used are Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Interpretation is used extensively in the meetings and business of the Council. The use of English is still practically taboo. Waltari says that the issue needs to be discussed. "Many younger civil servants are not proficient in Swedish and do not understand Norwegian or Danish. We'd be able to receive far more information from one another if we used a common language."
Irma Heiskanen-Haarala and Mark Waller
The broadcast of the Conference on Nordic Welfare can be watched on the Conference's website.