Finland is an integral part of Nordic Europe. With the exception of a small Swedish-speaking minority, the country is ethnically distinct from the Scandinavian countries, but the 700 years that Finland was part of Sweden gave it a Nordic inheritance that survived the century during which Finland was an autonomous state within the Russian Empire. During the interwar period, it entered into numerous agreements with the other states of Nordic Europe. After World War II, relations resumed, but with caution owing to the tensions of the Cold War. Finland could undertake no initiatives in international relations that might cause the Soviet Union to suspect that Finland was being drawn into the Western camp.
The gradual relaxation of superpower tensions meant that in 1955 Finland could join the Nordic Council, three years after its foundation. The Nordic Council was an organization conceived to further cooperation among Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Meeting once a year for a week in one of the capitals of the member countries, the council was an advisory body, the decisions of which were not binding; it did carry considerable weight, however, as the delegates at the annual meetings were frequently leading politicians of the countries they represented. At the insistence of Finland, security matters were not to be discussed, and attention was directed rather to economic, social, and cultural issues. Unlike the European Community (EC), the Nordic Council was not a supranational organization, and membership in the council did not affect Finland's status as a neutral nation.
The Treaty of Helsinki of 1962 gave birth to the Nordic Convention on Cooperation, which defined the achievements and goals of the regional policy of increased interaction. This agreement was followed by the formation in 1971 of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which instituted a formal structure for frequent meetings of the region's cabinet ministers. The issue at hand determined which ministers would attend. In addition to these larger bodies, numerous smaller entities existed to further Nordic cooperation. A study of the second half of the 1970s found more than 100 such organizations. The efforts of these bodies and the many formal and informal meetings of Nordic politicians and civil servants stopped short of full integration, but they yielded numerous agreements that brought Finland and the other Nordic countries closer together. This so-called "cobweb integration" has given the citizens of Nordic Europe many reciprocal rights in one another's countries. Finns were able to travel freely without passports throughout Nordic Europe, live and work there without restrictions, enjoy the full social and health benefits of each country, and since 1976, vote in local elections after a legal residence of two years. Citizenship in another of the Nordic countries could be acquired more easily by a Finn than by someone from outside the region.
Economic cooperation did not proceed so smoothly. Nordic hopes, in the mid-1950s, of establishing a common market were disappointed, and EFTA was accepted as a substitute. An attempt in 1969 to form a Nordic customs union, the Nordic Economic Union (NORDEK), foundered when Finland withdrew from the plan. The withdrawal may have been caused by Soviet concerns that Finland could be brought into too close a relationship with the EEC via Denmark's expected membership in the Community. This setback was mitigated, however, when the Nordic Investment Bank began operations in 1976 in Helsinki. The bank's purpose was to invest in financial ventures in the Nordic region.
In the second half of the 1980s, Finland continued working with its Scandinavian neighbors, being a part, for example, of the Nordic bloc in the UN and participating in Nordic Third World development projects. Finland's Nordic NWFZ proposal was being studied and furthered by an inter-Nordic parliamentary committee, and Finland was always present at the semiannual meeting of Nordic foreign ministers.
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