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Border barriers – a Sisyphean task?

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

In both the Nordic region and the EU, there is a rising number of complaints about the open labour market not being as open as we thought. Is this a warning sign, or is it a consequence of people moving more and businesses expanding their operations?

In this issue, we have focused on border barriers. You might think this only involves something that happens when crossing a border. Yet it encompasses everything that hinders an open labour market, prevents the proper functioning of people’s social rights, or stops businesses from competing on equal terms. 

The Nordic cooperation defines border obstacles as "laws, public regulations, or practices that hinder individuals' mobility or businesses' opportunities to operate across borders in the Nordic region." 

Sweden holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2024. That means the Swedish representative, Anders Ahnlid, also chairs the Freedom of Movement Council. He is the Director-General of the Swedish National Board of Trade, which has a long tradition of working towards freer trade.

"We want to anchor the need for integration among the Nordic countries on a political level so that it becomes more than just grand words in speeches,” he says.

We explain how the Freedom of Movement Council works and how successful they have been in what is often compared to a Sisyphean task. As soon as one barrier is resolved, another one emerges.

We also compare this to how the EU deals with border barriers. The more than 20-year-old Solvit network presents impressive figures, having resolved 85 per cent of the complaints received about the EU's internal market with free movement for citizens not working as it should.

Much of Solvit's activities resemble what Info Norden works with, however. For more challenging issues, the European Commission has launched the b-solutions initiative, where organisations working in border regions can receive expert help to find out more about the causes of barriers and how they can be resolved.

The Svinesund Committee is one such regional organisation that has had its application approved for its fight to harmonise building regulations in the Nordic region. The fact that these regulations are designed differently in Nordic countries increases the total construction costs by 30-40 billion Danish kroner in the Nordic region.

Another significant problem is that third-country nationals domiciled in one Nordic country cannot commute to another to work. The problem is most acute in the Malmö-Copenhagen area, where 6,000 people in that category are unemployed.

To be able to operate on the other side of a border can be crucial for businesses to achieve sufficient volume. One such company is Trysil Vask og Rens, which has no problem collecting dirty laundry on the Swedish side of the border but finds it expensive to transport the clean laundry back. 

Ordinary citizens moving to another Nordic country often struggle to get a bank account. Different authorities and banks collaborate poorly with each other. This issue is often discussed at Islands Hus in Copenhagen, where Icelandic immigrants meet.

Of course, there are other problems than border barriers in the Nordic region. We also meet the Mayor of Grindavík in Iceland, who is fighting against the forces of nature. On 14 January, lava once again flowed up from the ground and slowly but inexorably moved towards the town. The barrier built to stop the lava flow did not help.

“It was deeply disappointing that an eruption started inside the barrier. We had started plans to move people back to the town, start school again next autumn and then gradually the companies would restart their operations. The safety we had started feeling when the barrier was being built has disappeared for now,” Fannar Jónasson.


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