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Nordic employees want out of DK

Unhappy with the salaries and VAT in Denmark, Nordic Council and Council of Ministers employees want out.

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The Nordic Council

The Nordic Council was formed in 1952. It is the parliamentary cooperation between the Nordic countries and territories. The Council has 87 elected members from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.

The Nordic Council of Ministers

The Nordic Council of Ministers was formed in 1971. It is the inter-governmental cooperation between the Nordic countries and territories. The countries’ prime ministers are at the head of the organisation. In its own words, the NCM is designed “to work toward joint Nordic solutions that have tangible positive effects – Nordic synergies – for the citizens of the individual Nordic countries.”

In more recent times, with three of the countries as members of the EU, the organisation is also a forum for Nordic cooperation between those countries and territories that are, and those that are not, members of the EU.

Employees of the Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers, both of which have their secretariats in Copenhagen, are so unhappy with financial conditions in Denmark that they want the secretariats moved.

“We are unhappy with the fact that the Danish government won’t make us VAT-free. And salaries are under the level of the other Nordic countries, and particularly Norway. This means that it is difficult for us to recruit employees from countries other than Denmark,” says Nordic Council Secretariat Director Jan-Erik Enestam.

Both Nordic secretariats have been in Copenhagen for some years – the Nordic Council of Ministers since 1986 and the Nordic Council since 1996 – and have some 120 employees. The two are some of the relatively few international organisations with headquarters in Denmar.

Discontent with current conditions has led to the Nordic Council budget group calling for a report on where the secretariats would be best placed in the future.

Enestam says that resentment among employees has also been compounded by the Danish government’s decision to propose a cut in the Nordic Council of Ministers budget by nine per cent over the next three years.

“Personally I have no problem living in Denmark. It’s a question of how Denmark and the Danish government choose to treat the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers,” Enestam says, adding that remuneration is at the level of that paid to Danish ministerial staff.

“It is normal in this type of organisation that (salaries) are a bit over what is normally paid. Over and above this we should also be compensated for the fact that our positions are temporary in that we can only be employed for a maximum of eight years,” he adds.

Former Norwegian Finance Minister Per-Kristian Foss, who is the chairman of the budget group, supports Enestam’s views.

“The problem with Danish salaries and the VAT rules is that they result in few people wanting to work in Denmark,” Foss says, adding: It is not unusual that multinational organisations arrange better tax regimes. But we have no ambition of being at the EU level.”

Haarder says study a good idea
Danish Liberal, former minister and member of the Nordic budget committee Bertel Haarder says the issue is worth looking into.

“It is nothing new that employees want better conditions. But if it transpires that it is difficult to recruit employees from other countries, it is worth looking into the issue. We must be fair in Denmark, given that the secretariats are here and we must be sure that we attract the best qualified people,” Haarder says.

But he adds that the analysis must not be based on the secretariats always being in the richest country. “And we don’t want a system as they have in the EU in which employee salaries and pensions are much too high,” he says.

Haarder makes it clear that neither the Nordic Council nor the Council of Ministers can expect extra funding.

“If employees want higher salaries, then this will have to be within the current framework. That means fewer employees than is currently the case,” Haarder says.

Sareen says no more money
Danish Social Liberal Minister for Nordic Cooperation Manu Sareen is adamant that salary and VAT conditions will not be changed.

Sareen says Danish Finance Ministry calculations show that employees of the two secretariats have a “considerably higher slary” after tax than comparable employees in other Nordic organisations. And while the EU uses six per cent of its budget on administration, the Nordic Council of Ministers uses eight per cent.

“So I can’t see that (Nordic) employees are behind,” Sareen says, adding there may be other reasons that it is difficult to recruit employees from outside Denmark.

“The problem could also be that they are bad at recruiting and headhunting the right people,” he says and defends the Danish government’s proposal to cut the Nordic Council of Ministers’ budget by nine per cent.

“We have to respond to the times. The state, regions and councils are under pressure. When you have to consolidate public budgets you also have to look at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ budget,” Sareen says.

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