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j.1477 7053.1999.tb00482.x.pdf


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290

GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION

exclusively of sovereign states. In the case of the Nordic Council,
however, the autonomous regions do not participate in the same
manner as the sovereign states and do not enjoy full voting rights.
Nevertheless they enjoy a great deal of influence as the member
states feel a sense of obligation towards them. The presidency of
the Nordic Council of Ministers is held only by the member states,
but the presidency of the Nordic Council itself, which is an
interparliamentary body, rotates annually and so a member from
one of the autonomous areas holds the presidency in three years
out of eight. It is not yet clear whether the British-Irish Council
will operate in a similar manner with annual rotation of the
presidency among its eight members, or whether the presidency
will remain the prerogative of the two member states.
The contrasts between the Nordic Council and the British-Irish
Council seem, in any case, rather more important than the
similarities. The success of the Nordic Council results from longstanding common cultural ties, a consensus built up around a broadly
social democratic ideology, and a skill at defusing tensions. These
are not qualities which have been very evident in Northern Ireland.
The Nordic Council began as an informal body of parliamentarians in 1952. The Council of Ministers was not formed until 1971.
The urge to cooperate thus originated with parliamentarians, representatives of the people. With the British-Irish Council, by contrast,
cooperation is beginning at executive level and will, it is hoped, be
followed later by interparliamentary cooperation. This symbolizes
an important difference. The Nordic Council was the product of a
consensus. Conflicts between the various member states had been
resolved some time before it was established. The British-Irish
Council, by contrast, hopes to create a consensus not only amongst
legislators but also amongst peoples, so as to resolve a long historical
and ongoing conflict. Moreover, a main aim of the Nordic Council
has been international rather than domestic - to increase the
influence of the Nordic countries in the world. The main aim of
the British-Irish Council, by contrast, is likely to be concerned with
securing and bolstering the settlement embodied in the Belfast
Agreement.
Further, the composition of the two Councils and the relative
weight of the devolved bodies within them are quite different. Five
of the eight members of the Nordic Council are sovereign states of
not dissimilar size. Only two out of the eight members of the British-