Love it or hate it, the European Union (EU) is a fact of life for most western European countries. The Nordic countries’ approach towards it is particularly eclectic and one which deserves mention.
For those living in the stone ages, the EU is a federation of member states which (supposedly) work together for the common interest of the whole. I use the word “supposedly” precisely because it is not always clear that this is the case. Getting Brits, Germans and the French (insert any member state here) to agree on anything is akin to getting Protestants and Catholics or Conservatives and Liberals to do the same.
Despite these shortcomings, the EU has provided numerous tangible benefits. Countries such as Ireland and Poland have benefited tremendously from EU infrastructure investments. Development of a common Central Bank and currency (euro) makes life much simpler in many regards, although the economist in me recognizes this as a double-edged sword (as has been manifest by the recent financial crises in Greece and Ireland). Meanwhile, the Schengen Agreement allows seamless transit between participating member states.
The Nordic countries’ approach towards the EU has been particularly eclectic. Denmark and Sweden are both members of the EU and Schengen but rejected the euro in national referenda, choosing to retain their respective kroner (crowns) against the wishes of officials. However, governments had the last laugh as the central banks of the two countries peg their kroner to the Euro (7.45DKK/Euro in Denmark), making them de facto euros (just don’t tell any Dane I said that; they are quite proud of their kroner!).
In contrast, Norway is one of the few European countries to eschew EU membership, as well as the Euro, although they are party to Schengen. And who wouldn’t, given their vast oil wealth (more to come on this in an upcoming post). Only Finland is an EU and Schengen member, as well as part of the Euro zone.