The worrisome shift to the right of Nordic development cooperation

As a new minister for development and trade takes over #globaldev in Finland, it is time to take a closer look at how profoundly the foundations of Nordic global engagement and development cooperation are changing.

Ann Danaiya Usher from Development Today writes:
For the first time, a party viewed as being far-right on the political spectrum takes over the aid portfolio in a Nordic country. Finland’s new Development and Trade Minister Ville Tavio from the Finns Party is cutting aid and linking assistance to the return of asylum seekers.
NightCafe prompt "feminist foreign policy"

Even if the Finns Party rejects the “far-right” label, Finland is not the first country in the Nordic region where populist, right-leaning parties and coalitions are dismantling the foundations of their historic development policies.

Denmark-a new Nordic UK?
Until the beginning of the year Denmark was in the news until the initial plans to process asylum seekers in Rwanda was suspended.
But increased ODA spending for refugees at home as well as other measures are an indication that Denmark aligns her foreign and development policy more with the UK right now than with its more progressive past as 
tackling illegal migration” remains a key theme.

Sweden-toning down progressive approaches to development
The Sweden Democrats, not officially part of the current coalition government but rather conveniently tied into its policies through the Tidö Agreement were probably quite happy when the new foreign minister toned down the importance for Feminist Foreign policy, a concept that Sweden had pioneered with a handful of other countries.
During a recent visit of the Danish refugee deportation agency, Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson praised Denmark for its tough stance towards asylum seekers and their return: “What we are doing now is what Denmark began doing 10-15 years ago. It’s necessary, it’s possible, but it will take time.”
And during his recent visit of Liberia, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Johan Forssel repeated statements that could have been written by a #globaldev AI:
“For Sweden international trade has been and remains a critical source of growth and development. We want to share this experience and want our development cooperation to act as a lever to strengthen not only countries’ democracy but also their participation in the international economy.”
Norway-between aid cuts and climate hypocrisy
In a recent policy development in Norway, the minister for development took over the responsibility for humanitarian assistance, refugee efforts, and aid to Northern Africa from the Foreign Minister with the aim to make humanitarian and long-term aid work “more holistic efforts” especially in light of the global climate crisis.
The wording may suggest that 
“holistic efforts” turn into aid cuts, as Norway already produced the headline Norway proposes cutting aid share to 46-year low.
But perhaps more important that its development policies, Norway has a unique impact on global cooperation through its role in fossil fuel economy.
“Norway often likes to portray itself as a climate leader,” (climate activist Vanessa) Nakate told the room full of officials, politicians, and aid workers, calling for the government to cease financing new fossil fuel developments. “But just last week, the Norwegian government announced its plans to offer a record number of oil exploration blocks in the Arctic. … Does this sound like climate leadership to you?”
“It is time to stop the moral and economic madness,” she said. “Norway, you cannot have it both ways.”
Shifts to the right deserve more critical attention from media and researchers
So now Finland…it follows similar worrisome trends as her neighbours and so far these shifts in the Nordic countries have been flying a bit under the #globaldev radar-my guess is that the traditional perception of the countries as generous and progressive donors is still holding up and that shifts to the right are not as noticeable globally as, say, similar shifts in Hungary, Poland or the US.
Nonetheless, the right-wing/right-leaning/conservative-populist parties in the Nordic world (and actual Social Democrats in Denmark…) are a point for concern as structural shifts in #globaldev spending and organisational set-ups will not be easy to reverse “after the next election”.
Equally worrisome is the lack of public debate let alone protest against these shifts that could threaten “Nordic branding” beyond the simple amount of ODA transferred to multilateral organisations or partners in the South.


The bigger issue for me is how these political shifts affect global solidarity, support for others at home and abroad and driving any progressive agenda forward in a radically changing world. More attention is also needed to look at the strategies of these parties and coalitions to engage with them more directly in civic spaces, political arenas and global fora where these politicians show up.

And lastly, more research is needed on how much impact such political shifts have when it comes to public opinion about development and actual medium-term ODA allocation and spending-so we need to be vigilant and hope that Nordic countries maintain some leadership in liberal, empathetic, generous, global and equitable humanitarian and development work!
If you are interested in a bit more history of Nordic development cooperation, the Forum of Development Studies journal published a special section on Nordic Development Aid. Diverging Like-Mindedness? in 2022 and some of the articles, for example on Norway and Finland, are available open access.

Addendum 28 June-Swedish governments cuts development research funding
And just like that the Swedish government cuts development research funding through the research council (VetenskapsrĂ„det-VR): 
On 22 June, the government decided that the Swedish Research Council will no longer finance grants in development research (full VR statement in Swedish).
Below are just two sample tweets of the unfolding discussions online.

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