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Nordic Co-operation: Backing increased integration
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Nordic Co-operation: Backing increased integration

| Text: Berit Kvam

An overall relatively small number of people commuted across a border between the Nordic countries, yet in some regions the international commuting was very significant. Those are some of the results from the Nordic Commuting Map 2001, which was published recently. During its 2005 presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Denmark wants to make it easier for people to cross national borders to do a job.

The Nordic Commuting Map 2001 provides the first total overview of integration of the work market in relation to commuting between several Nordic countries. The commuting map shows that Swedes commuted far more than other Nordic people, and that the Norwegian labour market was the most attractive.

The project, on commission from the Nordic Council of Ministers, has been possible because the national statistics bureaux in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden now have the technology to assess how many people live in one country, but perform their main job in another.

The commuting map for 2001 shows that just over 55 000 people got their income from a Nordic country different from the one they lived in, and 25 000 were classified as commuters. Almost 80 percent of the commuters were Swedes. More than half of the total labour flow went to Norway, 20 percent to Denmark and 20 percent to Sweden.

The main flow of commuters went from Sweden to Norway, and close to one third of the commuters were men working in the construction business. The commuting between Sweden and Denmark was mainly linked to the Øresund region.

A little more than one per million of the total Nordic population commuted across a national border in 2001. But, as the authors claim: Even if the total flow of workers was relatively small, a cross-border labour market could have a larger impact in certain regions.

Increased efforts

The Nordic countries have had a free and common labour market since 1954. For more than fifty years, the ambition has been to create a well functioning, integrated labour market. Since 2003 there has been a particular focus on getting rid of legal and bureaucratic obstacles to free the movement of labour. During its 2005 presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Denmark aims to remove the last border hurdles, to ease labour mobility in the border regions.

Furthermore, there will be a strengthening of regional centres, which should allow regions to develop across national borders. In addition to removing border obstacles for people, efforts will be put into removing border obstacles for businesses. There is also a desire to develop digital services, to create better transparency in the Nordic labour market. The Øresund region will be at the forefront in this cross-border cooperation.

More initiatives

During its Nordic presidency, Denmark aims at ”Modernising the Nordic Labour Market”.

”A future with an ageing population demands renewal and new thinking to optimise the workforce”.The program therefore consists of several concrete initiatives, which aim to increase integration on one side, and on the other side to
create better work conditions in order to integrate more people into the labour market and to reduce sick leave.
The high level of sick leave is a problem in several Nordic countries, and specific action has been taken to improve the situation.

In Norway, sick leave has been reduced since the authorities and the parties in the labour market reached an agreement in October 2001 on improved inclusiveness in the working life. The agreement centres on making the workplace the main arena in the effort to reduce sick leave. Still, exclusion from the labour market is as relevant a problem in Norway as it is in Sweden, where bad health has been one of the hottest topics for public debate. The Danish government proposed a plan of action in December 2003, called “That’s what we do with sick leave”.

In 2005 the Danish presidency is due to host a Nordic conference which will focus on which initiatives actually do work. The Nordic countries will share their knowledge and experiences on how they work to reduce sick leave, and the host hopes this will create “a visionary political debate for mutual inspiration for all the Nordic countries”.

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