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National decisions have major consequences for border regions

National decisions have major consequences for border regions

| Text: Fayme Alm, photo: Anna Palmehag/News Øresund

Activate the networks, develop the dialogues, identify the updates. These are necessary and urgent tasks for the Nordic border region information services, thrown up by the corona crisis. Öresunddirekt in Malmö remains closed to visitors. Behind doors, there is plenty of action.

What in national legislation might concern the border regions? Finding such answers is part of everyday work at the three Nordic border region information services – Grensetjänsten Norway-Sweden, the North Calotte Cross-Border Advice Service and Øresunddirekt. But for some weeks now, the work has been ramped up, as Nordic countries try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We have to try to dig down into national decisions. Often nothing has been written down about regional border issues, so we do some interpretation and look for answers to see whether we have interpreted things correctly,” says Sandra Forsén, Head of Office at Öresunddirekt Sweden. 

Sandra ForsénThe information centre is situated next to the Malmö central station, and houses representatives from the Tax Agency, Employment Service, Social Insurance Agency, Skåne Regional Council and the Skåne County Administrative Board.

Due to the infection risk, no visitors were allowed at the time of writing this, but staff from the different agencies answer questions via email and telephone every day about housing, work or education in Denmark, as well as questions surrounding what this new situation means for Öresund commuters. They also help in various ways by focusing on topical problems.

“Our collective expertise contributed to the letter which the Skåne Governor sent to the Minister for Social Affairs and the Minister for Public Administration about the consequences of the first stage of the corona epidemic,” says Sandra Forsén.

Consequences for people living in Sweden

When Denmark closed its borders and Danish employers started sending their staff home, it had consequences for people living in Sweden and working across the Sound. The same was true for those living in Denmark and working in Sweden, when both childcare and schools closed down in their home country.

“For the border commuters, a lot depends on which country they are registered in for social security purposes. Normally you would pay taxes in the country where you work and have social security there. But what happens when you are forced to work from home, many of the people contacting us wondered,” says Sandra Forsén.

The Governor’s letter got a near immediate answer. Sweden’s Minister for Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi and Denmark’s Minister for Employment Peter Hummelgaard put together a Danish-Swedish expert group. Shekarabi tells the Nordic Labour Journal:

“The expert group is working on cross-border social insurance issues. Civil servants at the Ministry of Social Affairs are in regular contact with the affected parties, including the Social Insurance Agency. The group is tasked with working through any issues and problems that are identified. The most pressing one – how to adapt legislation – has already been dealt with, as the countries (Denmark and Sweden) agree that regulations do not automatically lead to changes for people living in a member state while normally carrying out their work in a different member state.”

The government ministers’ decision means that “social insurance regulation for people who normally commute across borders should not be influenced by the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus/COVID-19” as Öresunddirekt puts it in a press release.

Pragmatic decisions

“The Swedish Social Insurance Agency quickly understood, as did Udbetaling Danmark. Both agencies rapidly made pragmatic and wise decisions for border commuters,” says Sandra Forsén.

Her work is now more than ever focused on using existing networks to increase the number of dialogues and, as she puts it, to put pressure on different parts of the chain. It is also important to communicate new decisions and recommendations.

“We maintain close contact with the other border organisations and also talk with different government ministries which perhaps do not always think about the border regions. We are in daily contact with the Nordic Council of Ministers and its Freedom of Movement Council.

"This is a continuous exchange of knowledge which results in considerably more frequent updates of our portals in Danish and Swedish, for private individuals and businesses, which is carried out by Øresunddirekt Denmark.” 

Current EU legislation is a recurring worry which has been given renewed importance due to the corona crisis.

“It needs updating because it is not adapted to today’s digital ways of working, and this is particularly noticeable in a situation like this,” says Sandra Forsén.

Optimistic about the future

Despite the intensive work situation, she is optimistic about the important role Öresunddirekt can play as an information service.

“In a crisis like this, what we do becomes particularly important. So we are very happy that Greater Copenhagen writes in their labour market charter that they want to run more campaigns to increase knowledge about what we are doing. All cross-border commuters, or those who consider becoming one, should know about us."

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