In this foresight column, Jean Haëntjens proposes a scenario in which the countries of Northern Europe form a union, which enables them to take a leadership role in Europe.
From 2025 onwards, the Scandinavian countries and Finland, federated in a Nordic Union, decide to adopt a joint diplomatic policy and army, and succeed in playing a central role on the European stage. One of the triggers was the rise of the Russian threat, which was brought to greater attention by the war in Ukraine. This threat prompted Finland and Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), thereby making it possible for the Scandinavian and Baltic countries to draw closer together economically, diplomatically, and militarily.
In fact, this rapprochement had already been prepared by a long historical, economic, cultural and ecological bond between the three Scandinavian kingdoms and Finland.
The objective reasons for the rapprochement
The Russian threat revealed the fragility — or even the absurdity — of the political fragmentation of Scandinavia, given that Denmark, Norway, and Sweden share the same culture, the same interests, the same values, and almost the same language. These countries, long neglected by Europe’s traditional leaders (France and Germany) because of their small populations, had already become aware of their exemplary role and influence in the economic, ecological, educational, and cultural spheres.
They have the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Europe (between US$61,000 and US$89,000 in 2021), well ahead of Germany (US$51,000) and France (US$44,000), their public debts (between 39% and 44% of GDP) are among the lowest in Western Europe, and their unemployment rates are low (4% in Denmark and Norway, 8% in Sweden).
Their economies are geared towards the sectors of the future (telecoms, digital, medical, renewable energies) while retaining a strong foothold in strategic resources (agriculture, aquaculture). Meanwhile, the German model remains painfully dependent on the car industry and fossil fuels, and the French model, hindered by the decline of its industry, continues to deepen its external deficit and debt.
The success of these countries in the social sphere is also exemplary, since their inequality indices (Gini coefficient) are among the lowest in the world (between 0.25 and 0.27, compared with 0.58 in the United States). Equality between men and women is particularly strong, which is reflected in the fact that a large proportion of positions of responsibility are held by women.
The Scandinavian countries and Finland are also at the top of comparative rankings of education systems. The success of their educational model is not only technical and scientific, but also civic and moral. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland rank among the six least corrupt countries in the world, alongside New Zealand and Singapore (according to the organisation Transparency International).
These countries are also well ahead in terms of the ecological transition, with between 56% and 89% of their electricity production coming from renewable sources. Norway is the most advanced country in the world in terms of electric motorisation (half of new car sales). And in Copenhagen, more than 40% of daily journeys are made by bicycle.
In addition to these objectively positive factors, the people of these countries have great confidence in themselves and their future. They consider themselves to be among the happiest in the world (with “happiness per capita” indices of between 8 and 8.5, compared with 7 to 7.4 for France and Germany).
These countries also wield a degree of soft power that is out of all proportion to their demographic weight (a combined population of 27 million in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland), which helps them to promote their ideas and values.
The Nobel Prizes, created in 1901 by Alfred Nobel, are still, 120 years later, the most esteemed academic and political prizes awarded to individuals in recognition of their intellectual or moral accomplishments. In addition to the five original Nobel Prizes for Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace, there is also the “Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science”, endowed by the Bank of Sweden. The winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are chosen by a committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, while the winners of the other prizes are selected by Swedish academic institutions.
Since 2009, the Secretary General of NATO has been a Scandinavian: the Dane Anders Fogh Rasmussen (in office from 2009 to 2014) was succeeded by the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, who is still in office. This state of affairs reflects the United States’ undeniable confidence in Scandinavia’s role in NATO. Within the European Commission, the Scandinavians have an active and respected representative in Danish Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who is particularly known for attempts to impose record fines on the American digital giants.
In short, the Scandinavian countries tick all the boxes for success, with the one exception of their low demographic weight. For some years, they had been aware that by joining forces, and then federating the Baltic countries around the Scandinavian core, they could constitute a force with an economic weight almost equivalent to that of France, but with an undiminished capacity for influence and an international image that is generally judged to be very positive. This union did not come out of the blue, but stemmed from a very long tradition, which only needed the emergence of the right political signals to become fully realised.
The long history of Nordic unity
From 1397 to 1434, the three Scandinavian countries and Finland were united in the Union of Kalmar, and governed by the same sovereign: Margaret I of Denmark, who had also become Queen of Sweden and Norway, and then her nephew Eric of Pomerania. Subsequently, Norway remained under Danish rule for several centuries, before falling under Swedish rule in 1814, until 1905. Finland was also under Swedish rule for a long time, before coming under Russian control. These countries formed a monetary union between 1873 and 1905.
From 1952, cooperation between the Nordic countries was formalised in a Nordic Council, made up of 87 members representing the five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). From 1971, a Nordic Council of Ministers (made up of 11 councils, each dealing with a specific theme) provided a framework for intergovernmental cooperation.
The creation of the Nordic Union
In the summer of 2024, the dismal spectacle of the US Presidential contest between two octogenarian candidates finally convinced Europeans that they would have to rely solely on themselves to ensure their security in the face of an increasingly aggressive Russia. This realisation was felt particularly strongly in the Scandinavian and Baltic countries that share borders with Russia (which is the case for Norway, Sweden, and Finland).
In January 2025, the five states represented on the Nordic Council decided to transform that Council into a Nordic Union, with its own budget and responsibilities. The new Union was symbolically inaugurated in Kalmar, a small town in south-east Sweden, on the very spot where, in 1397, the first Scandinavian union was created under the rule of Margaret I of Denmark. The mission of this Union was to unite the diplomatic, military, economic, and strategic forces of the member countries.
Diplomatic representations were harmonised and eventually combined. At Nordic embassies, the flag of the Kalmar Union – a red cross on a yellow background – started to be flown alongside the national flag. In Paris, at the head of the Champs-Élysées, the House of Denmark, renamed the House of the Nordic Union, became a centre of Scandinavian cultural influence.
The first series of agreements were focused on the issue of energy: the five countries agreed to collectively safeguard their energy independence by organising the complementarity of their renewable sources (hydroelectricity, wind power, biomass) and fossil fuels. They also undertook to work towards self-sufficiency in food through the complementarity of their respective agricultural and maritime production.
The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund — the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, with assets of US$1,330 billion and profits of US$130 billion in the first half of 2023 — was tasked with taking back control of strategic industries. It took a majority stake in the Swedish carmaker Volvo and aerospace company Saab, which had been taken over by Chinese and American investors. The new group aims to become a world leader in the manufacture of electric vehicles and environmentally friendly aircraft.
The Nordic Union is making full use of its soft power and image to embody, on the international stage, a version of the West that is non-colonial, non-imperialist, clean, and green. It beat Australia to the punch by hosting the 31st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP31) in Gothenburg in 2026. Danish wind turbines from Vestas, electric cars from Volvo, hydrogen-powered aircraft from Saab, and cargo ships with wind propulsion systems from Norwegian shipowner Maersk were all showcased to demonstrate to the world that Scandinavia does not only make promises, but also builds and acts. At the same time, the EU countries have announced the creation of a seventh Nobel Prize, devoted to ecology, with the selection committee headed by the Danes.
A final series of measures concerns the creation of a joint command for the Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish military forces. The experience gained by the two Scandinavian Secretaries General who have successively led NATO since 2009 meant that an operational force could be put together quickly.
The creation of this force has been welcomed by most Western countries. The United States is delighted to see the emergence, within NATO, of a military force that it considers more reliable than those of France and Germany. The countries of Eastern Europe, which appreciated the Scandinavians’ support for Ukraine, feel particularly in tune with them. France, which remains in total disagreement with Germany over the arrangements for building a European defence force, is pleased to have a major new ally.
Strategists in the French armed forces soon took up the idea of discreetly helping this new Nordic force to acquire nuclear weapons. They had long considered the strategic risk to France of being the only European country to possess a fully autonomous weapon of mass deterrence (unlike the British nuclear arsenal, whose use is aligned with US military strategy). A classified memo asks: “If Marine Le Pen became the President, and thus head of the armed forces, what would she do if Russian tanks invaded Finland? And what would the very aged President of the United States do?” The General-in-Chief of the Armed Forces explains to the French President: “Deterrence is all the more effective when it is shared, when the attacker does not know where the retaliation will come from. And the Scandinavians are clearly the best choice to share this onerous responsibility.”
From 2026, the Nordic Union announced that it was willing to open its doors to Baltic countries, on the condition of meeting a number of criteria. Soon Estonia, Lithuania, and Scotland (which had decided to leave the United Kingdom), were knocking at the door. Former Hanseatic city-states, including Hamburg and Bremen, were accepted as associate members.
Within the European Union, the Nordic bloc, supported by its affiliates, is fast becoming a key actor. The time when a Franco-German core could claim to lead the Union is well and truly over. The newly created role of Prime Minister of the Nordic Union was soon received in Versailles with great pomp and ceremony. It is now in Gothenburg, the headquarters of the Nordic Union, that disagreements between Paris and Berlin are arbitrated and the fate of Europe is decided. In 2027, the combative figure of Margrethe Vestager was appointed President of the European Commission.
The higher the Gini coefficient (between 0 and 1), the greater the inequality; a figure of 0 corresponds to a situation of perfect equality (editor’s note). ↑
Source: European Social Survey, quoted in Cohen Daniel and Senik Claudia (eds.), Les Français et l’argent, Paris: Albin Michel, 2021. ↑