Nordic exceptionalism needs protection

“The end of Nordic exceptionalism”, I want to say, that as the Finnish minister for International Development between 2011 and 2013, I experienced in practise the good cooperation between Nordic development ministers.

Together, we acted as a team – be it in a European, UN or in other international meeting. I could always trust my Nordic colleagues in advancing human rights, gender issues, and, for example, transparency. The amount of our development budgets had effect, and we were listened to very much differently than to each of us alone.

Therefore, I fully see that the Nordic exceptionalism exists. It is also important not to lose it.

Our primary aim is to eradicate poverty, and not to promote our self-interested goals. However, sustainable development also helps our societies. We are committed to applying the international norms of development policy, including effectiveness.

It would be time to follow these – let’s say neutral and idealist guidelines more than ever.

If and when we want to globally implement the new sustainable development goals, Agenda 2030, we need our resources, and our will for transformative change.

This is no business as usual. It requires big changes in all policies from foreign policy to trade and tax policy.

At the same time, I am seeing an erosion of the Nordic exceptionalism. In 2015, the Nordics used less money to development aid. Finland is cutting almost half of its aid budget for 2016, and Denmark one sixth. Norway and Sweden are using more money, but on fifth of that is directed to refugees. That does not really contribute to the situation in developing countries.

Still Norway, Denmark and Sweden are respecting the 0.7 per cent of GNI – or even one per cent target. The one, that is clearly departing from the Nordic family, is – sad to say – my own country Finland.

It was already difficult for me to defend development aid in the previous government due to economic constraints. We still achieved 0.6 per cent in 2014, and used in an innovative way revenues from the emission trading system to development and international climate financing.

Now the new government is making a U-turn. Cutting Finland’s development aid by 330 million euros is outrageous.

It means some 40 per cent less support for the world’s poorest. In reality the cut is even more significant, 70 to 100 million more, as the revenues from the emission trading system are no longer directed to development.

The Finnish support to fighting poverty and climate change collapses from 0.6 per cent to 0.35 per cent during the year, when donors should have already reached the famous 0.7 target. The implementation of the new sustainable development goals, requires more funding, not less.

Finland is a bad example that weakens its international role. This is a Nordic issue.

The massive cuts affect first and foremost the life of a poor rural young African boy or girl.

Finland has prioritised aid to the poorest and most fragile countries. We have funded girls’ education and provided potable water for 3 million people in Ethiopia. The long-term work in protecting human rights, reducing inequality and fighting climate change is now severely jeopardised.

The whole Finnish development sector is amputated, and that has created an internal conflict. While 42 percent of the funding of development civil society organisations is being cut, the annual funding for concessional loans for businesses operating in developing countries grows 13 times.

I heard Norway is also cutting its aid to civil society organisations. Also other Nordic countries support more private sector. This is as well a trend at the international level, as we saw in the Addis Ababa Financing for Development conference. There is a need to increase support for private sector in developing countries, but this should not be done at the expense of other aid. At least Finnish support for private sector seems to be done from self-interested reasons. Why cannot the support be channelled to private sector in developing countries instead of the private sector in Finland?

The Finnish government is preparing a new development policy where the democratic ownership of developing countries seems to be forgotten. Aid is justified only from the perspective of what Finland gains from it.

This kind of thinking shows also on the international level. The EU and Norway were the only ones making concrete pledges for reaching the new sustainable goals. In the EU, there is an increasing willingness to use development aid for migration policy.

According to the EU Accountability report on financing for development, the union has failed to meet the targets to focus aid to Africa and least developed countries.

We, the Nordics, are now needed more than before.

I hope you have a fruitful discussion and find ways to build the Nordic exceptionalism once again!

Video greeting for the the Development Conference 2015 in Oslo on 12 November 2015.