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Nordic approaches to European unity

Christine Ingebritsen, The Nordic States and European Unity, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Book review by Laura Ferreira-Pereira

Christine Ingebritsen’s study begins with the assumption that Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland – but not Denmark, which had detached itself from its Nordic peers by joining the European Community in 1973 (along with Britain and Ireland) – had by the early 1990s shifted their posture from one of historical resistance towards the European project to a more collaborative and positive approach. In the late 1980s, the thawing of relations between the superpowers marked a fundamental renewal of the international security arena. It was at this point, Ingebritsen argues, that the idea of European unity emerged as the foremost concern of the hitherto reluctant Northern European states.

The systemic changes in the European security environment occurring after 1989 liberated governments from the Cold War constraints of security and defence and opened their minds to the need to change the traditional politics of accession as urged by the export-oriented sectors.

According to Ingebritsen, the different responses given by Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in the early 1990s to the acceleration of the integration process must be understood in the light of a structurally revised security order – one that in the case of Finland and Sweden called for the redefinition of their long-established policies of neutrality so as to make them consistent with the membership option.

The security variable alone does not tell the whole story. It must be combined with the orientation, weight and political influence of the export-oriented sectors, which varies in each state under scrutiny. Indeed, an appreciation of their differing impact on each of the Nordic economies is essential to an understanding of the gap between the Finnish and Swedish cases on the one hand, and the Norwegian and the Icelandic experience on the other. From this it follows that the considerable weight of the European export-oriented sectors in the Finnish and Swedish economies and the consequent anticipation of major market losses for raw materials and manufactured products highly conditioned collaborative stance adopted by these two Nordic countries towards the EU.

Denmark's leap into Brussels in the 1970s can be perceived along similar lines, given the significant weight of the agricultural sector in Denmark and its dependence upon European markets. On the other side of the coin, the considerable dependence of the Norwegian and Icelandic economies on oil and fish respectively, to the detriment of manufacturing, was one of the reasons for the more reluctant and even hostile stances of Oslo and Reykjavik. If one had to summarise Ingebritsen's thesis in one sentence, albeit simplified, it would be the following: 'In the Nordic politics of accession, economic sectors carried considerable weight when it came to choosing between being in or out of Europe.'

The fact that the author includes all the Nordic countries, examining the most recent developments in the Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Icelandic integration policies as well as evaluating the Danish change of course in the 1970s, leads to numerous generalisations which are not always precise and well-founded. Had the design of the book separated the analysis of the Danish pioneering experience from that of the traditional 'Euro-skeptics', the raft of reasoning and interpretations presented in the book would have been more intelligible, less puzzling, and therefore more reader-friendly. By the same token, producing a study on five countries, regardless of their political, economic or social similarities, challenges the author's ability to maintain a balance in analytical terms. Here the imbalance is striking, with Sweden, Norway and Denmark far more comprehensively covered than Finland and Iceland.

In conclusion, this empirically based study offers alternative perspectives based on the variable political influence of the leading economic sectors, which help to explain the different integrationist strategies pursued by the Norden states in the early 1990s. For that reason, the book is highly recommended for those involved in research into the Nordic politics of accession and also for those seeking a plausible explanation as to why Sweden and Finland only joined the integration process in 1995 when neighbouring Denmark had joined in the 1970s, and why Iceland and Norway remained somewhat hostile to full-fledged EU membership.

Laura Ferreira-Pereira is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent, Canterbury (UK); Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Minho, Braga (Portugal).

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