Nordic cooperation as a form of governance: Iceland’s sheltered society

New chapter on Nordic cooperation as a form of governance in an excellent book Handbook of Governance in Small States
With this chapter, Sverrir Steinsson and I 'have detailed how Iceland, the smallest of the five Nordic states, has used Nordic cooperation as a form of governance, allowing Iceland to provide services and govern its territory in as professional and efficient manner as its larger neighbouring states. Nordic regional cooperation has enriched Iceland’s governance capabilities. Iceland received political and economic shelter from the Nordic states, as well as extensive societal shelter. Whereas other research has highlighted how governance reforms come from within or from the wide-reaching European project, we provide a detailed case of how a small state has used regional cooperation to advance its own governance capabilities.
In terms of political shelter, Iceland’s diplomatic capabilities have been strengthened by Nordic cooperation. The Nordic states coordinate considerably on foreign policy matters, which gives them disproportionate influence internationally. Furthermore, the Nordic states also share embassies and missions, and have agreed to protect the interests of Nordic citizens abroad, which is particularly important for Iceland, which cannot afford embassies and missions in every corner of the world. In terms of defence and security, Iceland has relied considerably on Norway and Denmark for air and sea surveillance but it has relied on the other Nordic states as well for other aspects of security, such as cyber security. Nordic cooperation has not only provided Iceland with better means to govern its overseas relations, it also plays a part in Iceland’s security governance.
In terms of economic and societal shelter, the Nordic assistance in dealing with developments in Europe has been crucial for Iceland. Nordic cooperation has been a way for Iceland to track developments regarding European integration, and sometimes push Iceland to examine the benefits of European integration, as was the case with EFTA, EEA and Schengen accessions. Nordic cooperation has also eased Iceland’s transition from a closed market to an open European economy. Iceland has enjoyed the fruits of Nordic cooperation in social affairs, such as the development of the freedom to settle and work in the Nordic countries, travel without passports in the region, and enjoy the same social security and labour rights as the nationals of the state in which they are living. The ability of Icelanders to seek employment and education in the Nordic states, in particular during times of crisis, and then returning to Iceland, is crucial in terms of managing a small volatile economy with limited sectoral diversity and insubstantial education opportunities. Iceland has also extensively tracked legislative and cultural movements in the other Nordic countries, and mimicked policies that were developed by its neighbours. This includes the Icelandic social welfare system, women’s rights legislation and LGBT rights legislation. Accordingly, economic and societal shelter provided by the Nordic states has been essential for the small Icelandic society. Nordic cooperation in the economic and societal sphere has been an important part of Iceland’s governance from the 1950s.
Iceland’s reliance on Nordic cooperation as a way to govern may also have had its downside, as identified in shelter theory. Politicians may have felt tempted to delay the development of an efficient and comprehensive decision-making procedures within the public administration, such as with a focus on long term policy making. The cost-efficient policy approach simply to follow policymaking in the other Nordic states may have been too tempting.'
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