First Estonia-Sweden future cooperation report presented in Tallinn

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, authors Raul Eamets and Pär Nuder and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) presenting the report in Tallinn on Wednesday. September 7, 2022.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, authors Raul Eamets and Pär Nuder and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) presenting the report in Tallinn on Wednesday. September 7, 2022. Source: Birgit Püve/Välisministeerium

Presented in Tallinn Wednesday afternoon, the first report on future cooperation between Estonia and Sweden was published September 7, addressing relations between the two countries over the next 10-15 years as well as offering recommendations for new ways to cooperate.

The report was presented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde and authors Raul Eamets and Pär Nuder, according to a ministry press release.

Reinsalu said that as noted in the report, Estonian-Swedish cooperation is currently influenced primarily by Russia's war in Ukraine and the changed security situation in Europe, the energy crisis, significant climate change as well as global migration.

Regarding security, the Estonian foreign minister emphasized that Estonia supports and welcomes Sweden's pending accession to NATO, which would help reinforce the entire region's security.

"In the changed circumstances, we must also work to solve the energy crisis and move toward energy independence," he said. "Both Estonia and Sweden are maritime countries, so we could do more together to develop wind power technology."

He added that as both countries are also rich in forest, they should cooperate more closely on the preservation and smart management of this natural resource as well.

The newly published report also recommends new cooperation opportunities in digitalization.

"Both Estonia and Sweden are successful digital states but are facing similar challenges today, so we can jointly develop our cybersecurity and digitalization skills," Reinsalu said, adding that the Sweden-Estonia Cooperation Fund provides an excellent opportunity for further integration in digital affairs, as it includes a young leaders' program and mutual grants for students.

The first report on future cooperation between Estonia and Sweden was written by Raul Eamets, professor of macroeconomics at the University of Tartu (TÜ), and Pär Nuder, board member at the Sweden-Estonia Cooperation Fund and former Swedish minister of finance.

Watch Wednesday's full presentation of the report below.

'Cooperation too often based on nostalgia'

According to the report, climate change, digitalization, energy policy and sustainable forestry are the primary policy areas where the authors see the most urgent need for closer cooperation.

"In order to realize those opportunities, we need to overcome some threats: growing nationalism and protectionism, a lack of common institutions and a 'big brother attitude,'" they write. "In our understanding, the cooperation between our two countries is based too often on nostalgia rather than forward-looking projects."

The authors see potential for closer cooperation on climate change in several areas, including joint research projects analyzing topics such as the effects of offshore wind farms on the Baltic Sea environment and how microplastics affect the ecosystem.

They also stress that climate change is closely linked to a new, more sustainable policy as well. "The current geopolitical situation in Europe also highlights the necessity of transforming the energy sector," the report notes, adding that Estonia and Sweden could take a leading role on the matter, with potential areas of cooperation including smart grids, new energy storage solutions, offshore wind farms and hydrogen transmission networks.

Eamets and Nuter highlight that both Sweden and Estonia have been successful in digitalization, in the private and public sectors, respectively, and that both countries are facing similar challenges. The two countries could learn from one another, with areas with great potential for cooperation and growth including cybersecurity, AI, blockchain and digital health.

Regarding the sustainable forestry policy area, the authors noted that there are several contradictory objectives involved in forestry — including carbon binding, forest as an energy source, biodiversity as well as the growth of the forestry industry — and that both countries struggle with these issues. "We should work together toward finding solutions for balancing economic and environmental interests," they write.

Policy proposals in five dimensions

According to the authors, the policy proposals outlined in the new report were based on "discussion and ideas originating from many interviews and workshops, where different people with different experiences and knowledge participated."

They noted that some participants had general knowledge about both countries, some were experts in specific areas, and some where public opinion leaders, politicians and academics.

The authors presented their policy proposals in five dimensions: including from people to people, government to government, municipality to municipality, business to business as well as university to university.

Within the people to people dimension, Eamets and Nuder proposed the establishment of a "Center for Swedish-Estonian Cooperation" similar to Hanaholmen/Hanasaari, located just outside Helsinki, which promotes cooperation between Finland and Sweden.

Encouraging the Sweden-Estonia Cooperation Fund to take the lead on it, the authors noted that this physical meeting place could promote cooperation of "all kinds" and serve as "a place for everything, from seminars and workshops to business negotiations and cultural events."

The authors also encouraged various media channels contribute to improving Estonia's image in Sweden and vice versa through positive examples such as Estonia's digital services or Swedish creative industries such as gaming and music.

They also called for the two countries to promote cooperation and closer relations between politicians, including members of the Riigikogu and the Riksdagen and MEPs, as well as at the local government level, in business, in the creative industry, and in education, including at the primary and secondary school as well as the higher education levels.

Opportunities, weaknesses

Also included in the report were the results of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis regarding factors impacting current Estonian-Swedish relations.

Highlighted as strengths of the two countries' current relations were a common history and similar cultures, strong work ethic, EU membership, well-educated populations, common geopolitical interests as well as strong economic ties.

Acknowledged as weaknesses were people's lack of knowledge about the other country, the lack of a Nordic-Baltic identity, cooperation sometimes rooted in nostalgia rather than being future-oriented, a language barrier, especially among the elderly, knowledge of other regions outside of major metropolitan areas as well as differences in business culture and unionization.

Opportunities listed in the SWOT analysis included political support for closer ties, the Sweden-Estonian Cooperation Fund, a mutual scholarship fund for university students as well as sports, e-sports and culture as areas of potential.

Cited threats, meanwhile, included cooperation often being "rather ad hoc," the short-term funding of joint projects, the limited number of common institutions, growing nationalism and protectionism, cooperation based on aid rather than a win-win approach, as well as Sweden's "big brother" attitude toward Estonia.

Call for Estonia-Latvia-Sweden-Finland conference

In the report, Eamets and Nuder call for a series of conferences to be organized by the Estonian and Swedish governments on the four policy areas prioritized in the report, as well as the importance of regional cooperation.

Similar reports on Estonian-Latvian and Estonian-Finnish cooperation were published this year as well, and the authors of the report recommend the organization of a joint conference for Estonia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland next fall focusing on the joint activities proposed in all three reports.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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