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The house on the borderline

The house on the borderline

| Text and photo: Gunhild Wallin

Some 40,000 individuals commute between Sweden and Norway. For the purpose of assisting the commuters, a “Border Service” was established one year ago at Morokulien, between Kongsvinger in Norway and Arvika in Sweden. The “Border Service” offers guidance to which rules apply in each country, and shows one result of a unique cooperation between the county employment services in both countries.

Whenever one of the employees of the “Border Service” is due to collect his transcript, he crosses an international boundary, an EU and a NATO boundary. His office is situated in Sweden, whereas the printer is located in Norway. The “Border Service” as a matter of fact, acts as a lodging house, thus giving evidence of a tradition of close cooperation between the authorities in this area.

The borderline runs straight through the building, marked out in white painting, with half the house on Swedish property, and the other half in Norwegian real estate. In like manner the name Morokulien and the Norwegian/Swedish designation “GrenseTjänsten” for “Border Service” stand out as symbols of the boundlessness of the region – both names are hybrids, half Norwegian half Swedish.

Morokulien is one of the most frequently used border posts between Sweden and Norway, with some five and a half million people crossing the border every year. The Border Service was founded through the cooperation of the county employment services on either side of the border some five years ago. The Swedish labour market authorities and their Norwegian counterpart established an office to help employers recruit labour across the border, an initiative which gathered momentum once the Norwegian main international airport had been inaugurated at Gardermoen.

Photo Gunhild Wallin

“As time went by, both employment services took on more and more so the role of an information service. Commuters approached them, and asked e.g.“what happens if I get sick or am out of work?” This is how the county employment services conceived the idea of a project like the “Border Service,” according to Project Manager Torbjörn Frick.

The Border Service is being financed regionally, and with funds from the EU. It is supported by the taxation authorities, the counties’ administration, trade unions, the local social security offices, the customs, and the neighbouring municipalities of Eidskog and Eda. Those in charge offer particulars concerning national rules and regulations, commit themselves to the procurement of jobs and recruiting, coordinate contacts, and meet regularly in the “border commission”.

Here they discuss and solve existing problems regarding the border region. Whatever one may be at a loss to answer right away is brought to the attention of appropriate authorities in both countries, through an extensive network. “There is no such or similar cooperation,

anywhere. The general attitude to cooperation is overwhelmingly positive. I am impressed with the enthusiasm I encounter, and when we meet in the “Border Commission” three times a year, quite a few people take the trouble to attend,” Torbjörn Frick goes on.

“So far, we have answered inquiries from and attended to 13.000 persons and companies. People call from all over Sweden and Norway to obtain our help in coming to terms with the occasionally next to impenetrable regulations that apply to border commuters.

“No matter where you cross the border between Norway and Sweden, you are entitled to help from us. In as much as it is unlikely that the national laws are going to be synchronized, this information is essential,” Torbjörn Frick says.

The main topic at present is fraud. As a matter of fact, it is fully feasible to report in sick in one country while you work fulltime in the other, or to obtain unemployment benefits in one country and work in another.

Other problems arise from employers’ contributions, the right to claim social security in your homeland when you finish working in the neighbouring country, part-time employment in one country put together with unemployment in the other, the rates of exchange for the various types of contributions.

The project continues up to and including July 2005. Torbjörn Frick is worried about the continuation. Unlike the project “Öresund Direct” of that region, which gains 50 million in national contributions, the Border Service is funded by the region.

“We are a national resource, but I don’t think central authorities have realised it”, he says.



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