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Has the Corona crisis damaged the Nordic cooperation?

| By Björn Lindahl, editor in chief

Will the Nordics emerge strong after the Corona crisis, or has their cooperation been weakened by different forces triggered by the pandemic? The answer is, as so often is the case, complicated.

In an unusually crass statement, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde has said she is worried the Nordic cooperation will be damaged because of the Corona crisis, and because the other Nordic countries still do not allow their citizens to visit Sweden.

"I am worried about how long we will carry these wounds," she told Dagens Nyheter.

The Norden Association in Sweden has followed her up by appealing to the Nordic governments and parliaments to establish "a joint commission to study Nordic cooperation during the Covid-19 crisis".

The Corona pandemic has closed borders with severe consequences for people who work, shop or travel for leisure in neighbouring countries. Many also make their living from border trade and tourism. 

In this edition of the Nordic Labour Journal, we have therefore decided to look at borders and remember two anniversaries which have been overshadowed by the pandemic.

Denmark and Germany celebrate that the border between the two countries has remained unchanged since 1920. 100 year ago, a referendum divided Schleswig-Holstein into two parts. There are still people on the German side who feel Danish – and the other way around.

Old grudges have turned into new love, symbolised by that between pensioners Inga and Karsten who met every day while the border remained closed, to drink coffee on either side of it. 

There is massive cross-border commuting per capita across the Danish-German border; 15,000 people, which is approximately the same number who commute across Öresund. The Bridge is 20 years old this summer and has become a main artery linking Sweden and Denmark. But in recent weeks the traffic has largely consisted of Danes travelling to Sweden, while the Swedes are not allowed into Denmark.

The situation is the same on the Swedish border to Norway and Finland. People were very upset in Årjäng and Strömstad when Norway’s Prime Minister decided to allow Norwegians to visit one single Swedish county from 15 June – Gotland.

Locals at the same times describe what is happening in Northern Sweden and Finland as “a Berlin wall between Haparanda and Tornio”. 

Researchers are debating whether a future Europe will be one with regions or one made up by regions. The pandemic has shown that regions have little power when central governments make decisions.

“Since the [Öresund] region is a political construction and has no real regional independence, it falls flat when something like this happens – like the introduction of border controls – and things then often end up in Stockholm or Copenhagen,” says Jesper Falkheimer, professor of strategic communication.

The Nordic Council of Ministers wants the Nordic region to be the world’s most integrated by 2030. Today, that goal seems harder to reach. But we must not forget that much of the Nordic cooperation still works well, albeit in a more digital form.

Christer Holmlund, the new Secretary-General of the Nordic Teachers' Union NLS, praises the nordic model:

“We are prepared and used to talking to each other. That dialogue moves us forwards and brings better ways of dealing with the challenges which the Corona crisis has brought,” he says.

Christer Holmlund considers teachers’ psychological strain as the most important issue for Nordic teachers’ unions in the coming months. 

There is little Nordic cooperation on how to deal with the platform economy, however, according to a report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The taxi operator Uber started operating in the four largest Nordic countries simultaneously and quickly managed to change legislation which benefited their business model.

The report's authors conclude that no major effort has been made to organise Uber drivers, partly because it was considered to be an illegal operation before the deregulation, and partly because it was a difficult group to organise.

Small societies facing a Corona crisis might, to a certain extent, function better because there is greater unity and decisions can be made quicker. This can be seen in the Faroe Islands, where tools to find salmon parasites turned out to work as well for identifying the Coronavirus in humans. Infected people got to hospital quickly, and no Faroese have died as a result of the pandemic.

Iceland quickly got control of the disease too. But with the biggest tourism industry in the Nordics, based on GDP, it is hard to see how the Icelanders can keep it alive with domestic tourists only.

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