The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A billionaire tycoon thinks Denmark, Norway and Sweden should be a single country

(Amy King/The Washington Post)

The Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark are known around the world for their high standard of living and elegant furniture design. But all three countries have a little problem: Their populations are quite small. In fact, they may be smaller than you think: Sweden, the largest, has a population of around 9.5 million people, not much more than the British capital of London. Both Denmark and Norway have about half the population of Sweden.

Perhaps size shouldn't matter, but to some Scandinavians it evidently does. In a recent interview with Göteborgs Posten, Norwegian businessman Petter Stordalen (net worth: $1.5 billion) suggested that the three countries should join to form a new unified Scandinavian country of the three nations. "Think what a great country we would have been together," Stordalen, who made his fortune in property development and hotels, told the daily newspaper.

The idea has been met with a mixture of skepticism and support from Scandinavians.

The billionaire tycoon sees the situation through the lens of business. "In Sweden there are about 10 million people," he told the newspaper. "In Norway and Denmark there are 5 million each. Twenty million would be even better, whether it is about selling cars, airplanes or innovation."

The logic makes a little sense: Sweden has a population just 1/8th the size of that of Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse.

And in economic terms, Sweden's GDP is also just 14 percent the size of Germany's.

Even if you lump the three countries into a single "Scandinavia," their GDP, initially at least, wouldn't really rival any of the larger European economies. However, they would move far up the table, and Stordalen may reasonably argue that joined together Scandinavia's GDP would have greater potential for growth.

Not everything is about the economy, however. As Stordalen also noted, the three nations have a shared history, with similar languages and cultural references. All three countries were once part of the Kalmar Union, which, at its peak, included Finland and Iceland. Later, Norway shared a union with Denmark before then sharing a union with Sweden. There have been other historical movements to pool the three countries' power, such as the Scandinavism in the 19th century and the later Nordism movement.

But the importance of the Scandinavian and Nordic links have been diminished by the European Union (of which Sweden and Denmark are members but Norway is not) and NATO (of which Norway and Denmark are members but Sweden is not). And then there's the fact that Denmark and Norway were occupied by the Nazis during World War II while Sweden was officially neutral — a situation that left a degree of resentment that is still felt today.

Even so, comments on social media suggest that there's support for the idea. On Göteborgs Posten's Facebook page, users seemed to favor a merger – as long as the Swedish city of Gothenburg was the capital of this new state.

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