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The need to facilitate mobility in the Nordics

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

“My ambition is to make commuting within the Nordic region as unhindered by red tape as possible, both for the worker and the employer. And cross-border commuters should be able to work from home without it having consequences for the amount of tax they pay.”

That is what the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Secretary General Karen Ellemann said when we asked her which one issue she would like to achieve within the Nordic cooperation.

Mobility is about being able to benefit from a bigger labour market and being able to study abroad – but it is increasingly also about being able to choose between working at home or in the office. 

Although the common Nordic labour market has existed for almost 70 years, there is not a lot of mobility between the Nordic countries, according to a new Nordregio study. No more than 1.7 per cent of workers choose to move and work in a different Nordic country and just 0.5 per cent live in one country and work in another.

You could also put it like this: Out of a total Nordic population of 27.2 million people, only 40,000 move to a different Nordic country each year, and 49,000 commute across the border to work in a different Nordic country.

This is not because Nordic citizens rarely move. 13 to 16 per cent of us relocate every year, a higher than EU average figure. But we move to other countries beyond our neighbouring ones. I myself am Swedish and have lived in Norway for 40 years. 

Thinking back to how I saw the world as a young man, I can understand this. For me, Norway was not the country I was likely to move to – there were so many other exciting and more exotic countries to choose from! But love strikes in the most unlikely places, in my case in the Canary Islands. 

Karen Elleman’s interest in all things Nordic was woken when she was in year 5 and her school class visited friendship schools in other Nordic countries. Perhaps the odds of meeting another Nordic person today are bigger in Spain or Thailand for most of us?

When I asked my Icelandic colleague to write about why unemployment in Iceland is lower than in 20 years and about the challenges this poses for the tourism industry, he got the following interesting answer from Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Managing Director at the Icelandic Travel Industry Association:

“Mediterranean countries now get more tourists than staff from Poland.”

Another surprising figure is the 800 Swedes who study medicine in Latvia, which now has surpassed Poland as the top choice for Swedish medical students going abroad. The Nordic Labour Journal met one of them, Linnéa Zargarian, who had never been to Riga herself but who chose to study there rather than resit her upper secondary exams – something that can only be done every two years. She is positively surprised.

“The good thing is the number of lecturers. One lecturer has 13 students, and the lecturers are skilled and ambitious. Many of them are young and do just that little extra to ensure students succeed.”

Studying abroad also brings many other unique experiences.

One thing all the Nordic governments agree on is that further education is needed for the changing future of work. Yet worrying figures were presented during the Arendalsuka political gathering in Norway. The Work Research Institute’s annual workforce barometer shows a big fall over time in the number of Norwegian workers who are interested in further education and training. 

Just 48 per cent said they were interested in this in 2022 compared to 62 per cent in 2010, the first year the survey was published. Meanwhile, more than before believe working tasks will disappear because of artificial intelligence. 

One figure that is far too high is the number of fatal workplace accidents in Denmark. In 2022, 43 people died – the highest number since 2008. We look at what the Danish agriculture sector is doing to turn the trend. 

For women in the Baltics, the workplace is often not the most dangerous place to be, but their homes. While the Baltic countries are catching up and even bypassing the Nordics in many areas like digitalisation, things are moving slower when it comes to gender equality, influence in the workplace and democracy. 

Latvia is one of six countries that still has not ratified the European Council’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Marta Centre in Riga is a voluntary organisation that helps mistreated women and works to strengthen their rights – with Finnish and Norwegian support. The LAMPA democracy festival is also important. It too has been inspired by the Nordics and has involved the Nordic Council of Ministers this year.

In order for us to understand society and to keep the democratic conversation alive, one group of people is particularly important – journalists. For more than 65 years, the Nordic Journalist Centre in Aarhus, Denmark, has provided further education, courses and networking in order to strengthen journalism and the media.

“Creating the world’s most integrated region by 2030 means both changes and sacrifice. It means that Nordic citizens must be aware of which decisions are being made and why. Journalists who know something about the Nordics and the region’s relationship to the rest of the world have an important job that helps provide transparency and contributes to the development of our democratic societies,” says the Centre’s leader John Frølich


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