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You are here: Home i News i News 2016 i Frustrated border commuters in the south, hopeful border cooperation in the north
Frustrated border commuters in the south, hopeful border cooperation in the north
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Frustrated border commuters in the south, hopeful border cooperation in the north

| Text and photo: Gunhild Wallin

Train delays resulting from ID checks at Öresund is irritating and tiring for many border commuters, while new agreements for cooperation are made in the Nordics’ northern regions. Commuter routes between Norway and Sweden are also as busy as ever.

‘Norway is our most important neighbour’ is what the regional development organisation Region Värmland called their seminar during the Arendal week. While the obstacles caused by border controls between Denmark and Sweden get much press, cross-border commuting and cooperation is carrying on full tilt in other areas of the Nordic region. Earlier this month universities in Tromsø, Norway, Oulu in Finnish Lappland and in Luleå, Sweden, signed a cooperation agreement. 

That same day, when participants from Finland, Norway and Sweden gathered for the two day conference ‘Arctic Europe Forum’, another agreement was signed between Oulu and Tromsø aimed at strengthening the Arctic partnership. It identified four main areas: Political cooperation, transport networks and access, business development, skills and labour, tourism, culture and events plus cooperation on education, research and innovation. The agreement also supports increased cooperation across all of Arctic Europe.

“We have spent many years working to create more contacts between businesses in the Arctic, and the agreement means we now get a stronger political mandate to take this work forwards,” says Maja Terning, business export coordinator at Oulu and responsible for matching Norwegian and Finnish companies.

“There is a lot of interest in the Arctic region both on a European and national level. Future investments are estimated to reach around 197 billion kronor (€20bn) by 2025. Those of us who live in the Arctic want to be the main stakeholders in that development. We want to take and keep the initiative,” says Petri Karinen, Service Director of International Affairs at Business Oulu.

One Arctic, one labour market

One vision is the entire Arctic region as one labour market. Unemployment in Finnish Oulu is around nine percent, while in Tromsø it is just above two percent. That means there is Norwegian interest in recruiting Finnish labour, and there are opportunities for unemployed Finns to find work in Norway. Movement of labour between Sweden and Finland has so far been more natural, as there is a long tradition of mobility between the two.

“Norway feels a bit more remote for many Finns, so it takes longer to get Finnish workers to travel to Norway – despite the fact that transport links have improved with direct flights between several places in the Arctic region. Border obstacles are also complicating things. A Finnish electrician must for instance train for six months in Norway in order to work there,” says Petri Karinen.

In the border areas between Västra Götaland, Värmland and Norge, however, contacts have long been well established. That might be why there is more talk about cross-border commuting in the Öresund region than about the Sweden-Norway border regions, despite the fact far more people commute here than between Sweden and Denmark.

Värmland is not poor

The people from Region Värmland are pushing to lift the many contacts across the Sweden-Norway border to a national level. Several of Värmland’s municipalities are currently classified as being among Sweden’s poorest, with unemployment figures above the national average. But in reality things are different, said Bo Josef Eriksson and Linn Johansson, who both gave presentations during the Arendal week. In Värmland 4.4 percent of workers commute to Norway. That is more than 30,000 people, nearly twice as many as the Swedes commuting to Denmark.

Labour market statistics show most municipalities in Värmland to have lower employment rates than the Swedish average, but if you take into account people who live in Sweden but work in Norway, the picture changes dramatically. It then turns out Värmland’s employment rate is higher than the national average and in the border municipality of Årjäng it is 83.1 percent, compared to the Swedish total of 67.4 percent. The Swedish Norway commuters are estimated to bring home 2.6 billion kronor (€272m) in wages every year to Värmland alone.

“Värmland is a county between Sweden and Norway, and we want proper statistics which present a fair image of Värmland,” said the representatives from Region Värmland in Arendal.

And while people in the Nordic Arctic tie new links, and Värmland fights to get the facts on the table to present a fair image of existing cross-border cooperation, border commuters between Sweden and Denmark are fighting to remove border control obstacles. This summer the Nordic Council of Ministers published the report ‘ID and border controls in the Nordic region – the effect of ID and border controls in a Nordic perspective’. It shows that the border controls have been relatively smooth, but that trains between Malmö and Copenhagen still struggle with reduced accessibility and longer journey times. This means the number of Danish jobs which are only one hour’s travel away for Swedish workers has fallen by 322,000, according to figures from the Öresund Institute.

Swedish delegation from Värmland

Bo-Josef Eriksson, Stina Höök (M), analyst Linn Johansson and Tomas Riste (S) from Region Värmland

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