Swedes and Finns to create ‘town of the future’

While almost 200 years have passed since Sweden lost Finland, two small border towns have an innovative proposal to rejuvenate cross-border cooperation.

In order to cope with the development requirements for a mining site that straddles the border, the Swedish town of Pajala and its neighbor across the border in Finland, Kolari, are considering combining to form a singular, bi-national township.

“Our hope is to build our own, cross-border municipality within the EU,” said Bengt Niske, a town commissioner from Pajala.

In the proposed “town of the future,” citizens from both Sweden and Finland would vote for one set of local politicians, who would then work to develop a single, common infrastructure and economic development plan.

The proposal comes as both towns look ahead to the challenges associated with a major mine development project spearheaded by Canadian mining company Northland Resources.

The company is developing three separate mines, one in Sweden and two in Finland, with the first set to open in 2009.

The project will require massive infrastructure development affecting both municipalities, which together have just over 10,000 inhabitants.

“Neither municipality would be able to meet the challenges involved with this mining project on its own. It’s creating a huge industrial area that sits right on the Sweden-Finland border,” said Niske.

One of the biggest challenges will be recruiting for the thousands of jobs expected to be created by the project.

“We will need to work together in order to develop a common marketing approach so we can attract people to the region,” said Niske.

The towns themselves will also require improvements, both to make them attractive to potential workers, but also to cope with the additional strain of operating three major mines.

Niske admits it will take some time to realize the plan, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the idea.

He points out that Pajala and Kolari were part of the same country for centuries, until Sweden lost Finland in 1809, and thus have a long history of collaboration.

“We’ve been working together already in a number of areas. This vision just takes things a step further,” he said.