The Nordic passport union[i] from 1957, which allows citizens from all the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) to travel freely without passport within the Nordic countries, will effectively stop Monday 4th January 2016, where Sweden introduces ID checks at its borders. The introduction of ID check is caused by changes in Swedish immigration and asylum policies. However, the decision has severe implications for the around 30,000[ii] people who daily crosses the Øresund Bridge by train, their journey will longer and they have to change trains instead of taking a direct train. In the long term this can end the successful cross-border commuting and regional cooperation without solving the increased number of asylum seekers.
The number of asylum seeker in Sweden has doubled the past year, specifically 149,028 people applied for asylum in Sweden between January to November 2015 compared to 74,344 people during the same period in 2014[iii]. Since the summer Swedish authorities have checked people taking the train across the Øresund Bridge those seeking asylum have been registered and others have had to return across the bridge often stranding in Copenhagen Central Station, where the sight of sleeping families is not uncommon. From Monday 4th January 2016 the Swedish authorities will pass the responsibility to check people entering Sweden to all transport companies carrying passengers to Sweden.
The Øresund region is a big metropolitan area which extends from Greater Copenhagen area to Skåne (Scania) in Sweden, including Malmø and Lund. Since the bridge was opened in June 2000 there have been more regional cooperation between local councils and regions in addition to businesses, which operate on both sides of the borders. Many people in the region lives in one country and work in another. Moreover, many people cross the bridge for a day out for shopping or tourist activities or a night out in town. People are able to cross the Øresund Belt either by ferry, by car over the bridge or by train. In 2014[iv] 11.4 million people used the Øresund train, the figure for the first three quarters of 2015 is 9 million people, these people now all have to be registered by DSB, the Danish railway company.
From a transport perspective, DSB, which run the Øresund train, has to register all persons crossing the Bridge. It has decided to set up check points at Copenhagen airport (the last stop before Sweden) where all passengers from Monday 4th January 2016 have to change trains and go through designated check points, which will be run by an external company, Securitas[v]. According to Danish Radio the introduction of carrier liability is estimated to cost 200,000 DKK (€40,000) per day, and Skånetrafiken has promised to pay half the cost, which means the daily additional cost for DSB is 150,000 DKK (€20,000) yet The Danish Transport Minister Hans Christian Schmidt[vi] wants DSB to internalise the additional cost of checking ID. It is questionable if DSB in the long term DSB can continue to internalise these extra costs especially after the government has reduced its funding for DSB, which has to deliver the same for less. Thus the additional cost of registering Øresund passengers might have wider implications for the Danish railway network and rail prices. Effectively, the Danish tax payers will pay for Sweden’s introduction of border control.
The extended travel time between Copenhagen and Malmø , which is predicted to double the journey time from 35 min to over 1 hour, will mean people have to take an earlier train to get to work on time and will be home later, this extends their time away from home and have implications for day-care and afterschool activities. The question is whether these people in the long term with try to find jobs on their side of the bridge or will move to the other side of the bridge. Commuters from Sweden has set up a Facebook group called Øresundsrevolutionen[vii] and are protesting against what they see as an increased Stockholm focus, which ignores the close relations between Scania and Copenhagen and the region of Zealand. The close ties between Scania and Zealand region are historical and they have been further strengthened with the opening of the Øresund bridge in July 2000, which has created a big metropolitan area. Indeed, many Danes married to non-EU citizens moved to Scania during the 2000s due to the Anders Fogh Rasmussen governments introduction of stricter immigration rules, by moving to Scania the Danes were able to live with their spouse whilst working in Copenhagen and visiting family in Denmark.
In his New Year speech, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen emphasised the need for ‘us to look after Denmark’, and added that he might introduce border controls at the Danish-German border if the situation calls for it. Similar to the Øresund region the landlocked border regions between Denmark and Germany represents another example of close cross-border cooperation, where many people live on one side of the border and work on another.
Importantly, there are many successful cross-border cooperation throughout Europe, if EU member states suspend the Schengen agreement and introduce border controls what will happen to these regions? What will happen to Strasbourg, a big city on the border between Germany and France, which is a symbol of both the EU integration project and historical strife.
Finally, the EU’s principle of free movement and its support for regional cross-border cooperation, which the Øresund region is a prime example off, is challenged especially as it is unclear how long Sweden will impose these measures and if other EU member states will follow Sweden’s example. Crucially, it is unlikely that introducing border controls within Europe and between member states will reduce the number of asylum seekers and immigrants, or bring peace to the regions with civil wars and unrest instead the solution needs to be found elsewhere.