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Øresund has something to teach Europe

| Text: Anders Jakobsen, Photo: LO

Peter Kay Mortensen thinks the rest of Europe could learn from the experiences of the Øresund region in Denmark and Sweden. He is chairman of the Greater Copenhagen Section of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, and one of the driving forces behind the Øresund co-operation.

Photo: LO“With a freedom to try out new solutions, we could get closer to a comprehensive labour market”, he says.

In the year 2000, Denmark and Sweden were permanently linked across the narrow sound of Øresund, by a bridge and tunnel combination. Ahead of the opening, there were many political visions about creating one common region, where Danes and Swedes could live and work on either side of the border. Since then, integration has come a long way. But there are still barriers, and things can improve.

“That’s why we should conduct a series of pilot projects in the region, and free ourselves from the laws of the nation states in certain areas over a set period. We can then choose the best solutions. We’ve already seen results from which I think other countries and border regions in the EU have something to learn”, says Peter Kay Mortensen.

He is chairman of the Greater Copenhagen Section of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, a local umbrella organisation for several of the largest trade unions in the Danish capital, and a member of the Øresund Labour Market Council (ØAR).

He is a driving force. Trained to be a baker, Peter Kay Mortensen joined union and political work as a young man. Today he is active within the Social Democrat Party, and is directly involved in Øresund region projects through his work for The Greater Copenhagen Authority (HUR).

This year Denmark holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The over all themes for the Danish presidency are "The Nordic Region in a New Era - knowledge, dynamism and co-operation”.

Peter Kay Mortensen can sign up to all this without difficulty.

Visions

He shares his vision for the Øresund region with many. The region is being made into a dynamic centre in Europe, aiming to attract high-tech companies, especially within IT, biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Already there are around 10 000 IT businesses as well as 14 universities and other institutions of higher education in the region. It has the largest labour marked in the entire Nordic region, boasting 1,8 million workers and one of the world’s highest employment rates.

Furthermore, the Øresund region is in a key position when it comes to the new EU member states around the Baltic Sea. In that respect, the perspective and possibilities for the region are enormous, and should be made the most of, he thinks.

Barriers

Peter Kay Mortensen was part of one of the focus groups when the OECD analysed the Øresund region.

“One thing the analysis showed was that the Øresund region is handled differently by Denmark and Sweden. In Denmark it is dealt with by the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, and is part of the policies on regional development. But in Sweden it is foreign politics, and the Øresund region files under the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. That difference can act as a barrier to integration.

The focus groups have set out 24 suggestions on how to advance integration in the Øresund region, and this is where I propose a pilot project involving a self-regulating region, says Peter Kay Mortensen.

Two systems of education

He is aware of the issues that are slowing down the processes, and he loves to be part of the decision making process which can actually change things.

“One example is technical educations, where we have two separate systems. In Denmark you’re normally employed by a business and take periodical courses at a technical school. When the education is over, you get a diploma from the business. In Sweden you’re educated purely in a school system, and must pass an exam before you can be employed by a business. This is where we should have some pilot projects, and afterwards choose what works best. Or find out how people in both countries can learn from another across the border.”

Different models

“There are also some limitations in our national agreements between employers and employees. If you’re employed by a business with branches in both countries, it can be difficult to work on the other side of the border. Here too we should have trials, letting people work freely in branches on both sides of the border.

What’s more, the labour market in Sweden and Denmark are built on two different systems. The Swedish model is governed by central laws passed by the Riksdag (Parliament), for instance the working week, working environment and labour laws. Therefore Swedish employers mostly negotiate only on wages. In Denmark the parties in the labour market have negotiated voluntary agreements in these and many other areas. The fact that the systems are different can slow integration, and here too I believe we could try out different things”, explains Mr. Mortensen.

Øresund bridge

Positive experiences

The first years with the bridge have led to many valuable experiences, and he mentions a few examples:

When we started the integration of the Øresund region, the idea was to get to know each other a bit better. It is very important that we have gained a good bilateral understanding. When we met in the past, we often had to start from scratch and debate the differences between the countries, and so on. Now we just take up the tread from last time.

At one stage the Øresund region was designated a pilot-region within the EU, and we started a range of projects with EU support. Now those projects continue, also after the EU-support has run out. The initial support itself was a catalyst, and the projects have proven to be both relevant and long lasting.

One example is a project on transferring members between trade unions in Copenhagen and Malmø, when people within the same trade got work on the other side of the border.

Normally there is a three-month wait to be transferred from one union to the other. So we had a project where we agreed to take care of each other’s members for those three months. Today all this happens naturally. And we have more examples of getting parties to simply meet, and then things just continue on their own accord. This can be done without any economic support from the EU.

Everywhere in Europe there are problems connected to border regions, which should be sorted out. I think that other countries and regions in Europe can learn something from our experiences here”, says Peter Kay Mortensen.

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