‘Scrap border checks on bridge to Denmark’

Sweden's tightened border controls on the Öresund bridge is a blow to growth in one of the country's most vibrant regions, write Stefan Müchler and Per Tryding of the southern Swedish Chamber of Commerce.

'Scrap border checks on bridge to Denmark'
The Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Photo: Janus Langhorn/

Four years ago, the Danish People's Party talked Denmark's Liberal Party government into stepping up ID checks at the Swedish and German borders. The reasoning was that criminality was flowing into Denmark across the Öresund Bridge.

German as well as Swedish business industries hit out immediately at the time and their message was clear. Notwithstanding the fact that it would violate the principle of free movement, it would also be a blow to trade and growth.

That time, the checks were short-lived. Denmark got a Social Democratic government which scrapped the plans and honoured the EU's and the Nordics' open borders.

But it is all happening again. Of course the reasons are more urgent this time around. But one important aspect remains the same. Closed borders are used to show off decisive action against a phenomenon that can never be solved by closing oneself off to the world.

The new version of border controls has little chance of working smoothly and is likely to have a negative influence on the Öresund region's growth potential.

The idea is that the public transport companies – just as on flights – will be responsible for checking the ID of anyone buying a ticket or boarding trains crossing the bridge from Denmark to Sweden.

It is easy to see the ulterior motive, namely that these tickets should be acquired on Danish soil.

In that way the government hopes to kick the ball back to the Danish side of the court. If refugees are not allowed on to the trains the idea is that the problem will be handled by Danish authorities. But there is not a lot which suggests that Denmark is going to accept that.

READ ALSO: Swedish border checks to extend into Denmark

Police on a train from Copenhagen to Malmö. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Apart from all the important humanitarian and human aspects, there is one other critical parameter. This is not a border like the one between Stockholm and Helsinki, with a number of ferries calling a couple of times a day. The Öresund region is an increasingly integrated region with 3.9 million citizens.

Both sides have invested in commuting – and it has paid off. On the Swedish side alone, the Malmö region's commuting range has grown by 470,000 people since the year 2000 to more than 1.1 million people today. The bridge traffic is linked to Copenhagen's metro and Skåne's entire public transport network. Delays and train cancellations therefore affect the whole commuter region.

Just imagine similar checks on buses and trains between Uppsala and Stockholm with similar domino effects on the whole underground system.

This happens in a situation where Skåne's and Denmark's economies – which are increasingly synchronized – are rising sharply. Seven out of ten Skåne companies believe in growth. Two thirds report difficulties recruiting and more than one in ten say they have refrained from expanding because of staff shortages.

To effectively shrink the region's local labour market in that situation is a major blow to growth.

READ ALSO: Lawyers slam Swedish bridge closure plan

The main goal, of course, has to be coordinating the asylum issue within the EU and quickly deal with the union's outer borders. The government probably realizes this.

But while we wait for that, pragmatic negotiations are needed, not just with other parties but with our neighbouring countries. We need to let go of pride and prestige.

Sweden is not going to win against Denmark, the unofficial European champion when it comes to tight asylum rules. Trying to force your own policies on other countries is also unlikely to succeed.

In the long term, it goes without saying that Sweden and the EU should remain open to skilled workers as well as refugees. In fact, the question is rather if our economies will survive without this integration. The Chamber of Commerce will therefore increase its efforts to promote integration in various ways.

In the short term, Malmö in particular is under pressure and the situtation is not sustainable. But splitting the largest region in the Nordics in two is not the solution.

This article was written by Stephan Müchler and Per Tryding, CEO and deputy CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Sweden (Sydsvenska handelskammaren), and was originally published by Dagens Industri.

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Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.