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What does the common Nordic labour market mean to you?

What does the common Nordic labour market mean to you?

| Text: Bjørn Lønnum Andreasen, Hallgrímur Indriðason, Marie Preisler, Bengt Östling, Rolant Waag Dam, photo: Tomas Bertelsen

The Nordic Labour Journal asked some of the participants at the conference marking 70 years of the common labour market what it means to them – personally or for their respective countries' labour markets.

John Johannesen

Photo: Tomas Bertelsen

Greater professional outlook which makes it possible to create concrete solutions

John Johannesen, is a journalist and presenter at Kringvarp Føroya, the Faroe Islands’ national broadcaster, and for many years a member of the Nordic Council Freedom of Movement Group. He has previously been a government minister, Danish parliamentarian and head of office for the High Commissioner of the Faroe Islands.

He is convinced that the Nordic cooperation has given him a broader professional perspective and a larger network, enabling him to have a more nuanced view of national and Nordic issues—and to create concrete solutions in his work with the Nordic Council Freedom of Movement Group. 

”It used to be the case that Faroese who moved to Malmö for instance, could use their driving licence in Sweden for one year. After that, they had to take a driving test which could cost a lot of money. We have now changed this so that Faroese can get a Swedish driving license when their old one runs out after one year in Sweden without having to do the test.”

Yngvar Åsholt

Yngvar Åsholt

Easy to move country in an economic downturn

Yngvar Åsholt is knowledge director at the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration NAV, and believes cooperation in the Nordic region has improved growth in several countries.

One backside has been young unemployed people with low education levels have lost out to youths from other countries when applying for service sector jobs, for instance, he says. 

“Sectors such as healthcare, construction and service have benefited from the common Nordic labour market. In the construction sector in particular, workers from the Baltics have taken over many of these jobs. 

“With Nordic workers, there has been next to no social dumping and the way the work is performed is very similar. So a common Nordic labour market is an advantage,” explains Åsholt.

“When Norway has experienced economic downturns, people have been able to easily move and work in a different country."

Cooperation and the sharing of knowledge between authorities like NAV in the different countries has also been beneficial.

“The reason is that the countries are similar in many ways and face similar challenges.”

He believes the use of AI will be another area in which the Nordic countries can cooperate. 

“It will be easier to develop common legislation and high-quality services in cooperation with countries which are relatively small.”

Unnur Sverrisdottir

Unnur Sverrisdottir

The common labour market makes finding jobs easier

“The common Nordic labour market makes finding jobs easier for Icelanders and other Nordics. The flow between the countries is completely free,” says Unnur Sverrisdottir, Director General at Iceland’s Directorate of Labour.

She believes people take it for granted. 

“The labour markets and the countries themselves are different but we look at it as a common market. If it wasn't like that, you would need a work permit. What is special about the Nordic countries is how long it has been a common market. Therefore, it's almost the same for Icelanders to work for a while in Copenhagen as in Akureyri," Sverrisdóttir says.

There is still room for improvement. Sverrisdóttir mentions different tax rules between countries. 

"I know of people who worked temporarily in Denmark and had to pay taxes in Iceland and Denmark, just to have it refunded a year later. This is problematic. But I hope the Øresund agreement can be a role model for fixing that.”

Sarah Sofie Nielsen

Sarah Sofie Nielsen

I have opened up for a job in the Nordic region

Sarah Sofie Nielsen (27) has been a labour market advisor for Greater Copenhagen since January 2024. She has a Bachelor's degree in political science and a Master's in political communication. She lives and works in Copenhagen 

Sarah Sofie Nielsen went on skiing and summer holidays to Norway and Sweden with her family as a child but never considered working in a different Nordic country. Now she has been given that opportunity as an employee of Greater Copenhagen, working with developing the common labour market in Eastern Denmark and Southern Sweden. 

“Like many other young people, I have looked out towards the big world, not towards the Nordics. But this has changed after I got my current job.”

As a labour market advisor for Greater Copenhagen, she works with colleagues from other Nordic countries at the office in the Danish capital.

"I thought the language would be a problem, but after a bit of adjustment, I understand what my Swedish colleagues are saying. I'm surprised at how easy it is, and now I can also see exciting opportunities in seeking jobs in another Nordic country. It will make perfect sense for me at some point."

Greater Copenhagen includes Region Skåne, Region Halland, Region Hovedstaden, Region Sjælland, and 85 Swedish and Danish municipalities. They collaborate on nine specific pathways to a well-integrated labour market in the region, including the newly adopted Danish-Swedish tax agreement.

Fredrik Karlström

Fredrik Karlström

The Nordic region is like family

Fredrik Karlström, a former politician in Åland and now a businessman, entrepreneur and member of the Nordic Council Freedom of Movement Group.

“I moved from Åland aged 16 and studied in Swedish Uppsala and later in the USA. It was obvious that you could go anywhere from Åland. It is about identity, freedom and security. I usually compare the Nordic region and Åland to a family; When you have a secure family you dare try other things and step out. You know that you are always welcome back. That is the Nordic region to me.

“The passport union and the common labour market are the two most important things in the Nordic cooperation. To be honest, there have not been that many other major Nordic reforms since those.”

Fredrik Karlström would like to see something new and big which would be important to a lot of people. 

“This could be electronic ID, which is absolutely necessary, or something simpler like a reform of the companies act. It is not that difficult politically but means a lot to the labour market and companies that want to expand. It could make it easier for people who want to set up and run businesses in a harmonised market.”

Ålands location in the middle of the Baltic Sea and in the Nordic region means the common labour market works very well there. It is easy for people to move to Åland, which receives 1,000 new inhabitants every year while 750 move out. 

“It is good that Åland is growing, I want it to. 30,000 inhabitants is too few, we need 50,000. But we also need more workers. People get older and companies don’t have access to the right skills. We are good at attracting people to Åland, but there is still a way to go.

“It is mostly people from other Nordic countries who move to Åland, and the perception is that it is easy to move there. But sadly it is not that easy. Many have complex questions on taxation, social welfare and more, which the government of Åland cannot solve. But together, the Nordic countries can create solutions, simplifications and remove obstacles together.”

Maria Häggman


A Swedish personal ID number made it easy to work in Sweden.

Maria Häggman is a Finnish citizen who now lives in Helsinki where she is head of international affairs at the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK), which has 13 member unions.

From 2014 to 2018, she worked in Sweden for the Council of Nordic Trade Unions. She had few problems settling into the neighbouring country.

"I was born in Finland, but as a child, I and my whole family travelled with my father when he made use of the freedom of movement to work at Nordisk Kontakt in Sweden. That's when I got a Swedish personal ID number."

Maria Häggman appreciates the access to a bigger labour market.

"For me, starting work in Sweden was a simple step. It is a bit more complicated for people without a personal ID number. With just a coordination number things are a bit more impractical."


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