“Freedom of movement is one of the cornerstones of Nordic co-operation and is a fundamental element in the prime ministers’ vision for the Nordic Region to be the most integrated and sustainable region in the world by 2030. If we’re to realise this vision, action is needed,” says Siv.
“We have to prioritise better. People say they want freedom of movement to improve, but when we get into the nitty-gritty, we need more action in terms of both policy and civil service to deliver results. Though we’re busy with other issues, we have to give freedom of movement a higher priority,” says Siv, who comes from Iceland.
Challenge to get support
The Freedom of Movement Council has a clear mandate – to support the functioning of freedom of movement in the Nordic Region. In practice, it isn’t always easy to solve the problems faced by those who work, study or run companies across Nordic borders.
“It’s a challenge to get both politicians and civil service to make removing obstacles to freedom of movement a higher priority. For example, we’ve come across politicians who say that they want both this and that, but the will for change withers away when it gets to the civil service. We must work harder, so that both politicians and civil servants understand the Nordic advantage to a greater degree. The more knowledge there is about the Nordic advantage, the greater the chance that it will be taken into account when decisions are made.”
Putting pressure on decision makers
The Freedom of Movement Council isn’t able to tackle obstacles itself, but rather it identifies various obstacles to freedom of movement and puts pressure on the bodies that can remove them – often national governments and public authorities.
And it isn’t just about removing existing obstacles to freedom of movement, rather a proactive approach is equally important. For instance, right now Siv is concerned about Sweden’s plans for a permanent train station for border controls in Öresund.
“We’re very concerned about that. Although we understand the importance of tackling crime, you have to do it sensibly so that it doesn’t create long queues for commuters at the border. An initiative which puts in place permanent border controls isn’t compatible with our vision and can create major problems for growth, not only in the border regions, but for the Nordic Region as as a whole.”
At the end of the day, Siv is optimistic. She believes in results, simply because the tens of thousands of people in the Nordic countries who lead cross-border lives expect freedom of movement in order to work. She takes digitalisation as an example.
“I’m quite optimistic because I don’t think people will find themselves in a situation where, for example, we can’t resolve the issues around digitalisation. At present, people can’t sort out their affairs in the public sectors of the different countries since we don’t have an electronic ID that works across borders. I believe there will be a lot of pressure from the public that prompts the countries to identify and deliver cross-border solutions to this.”
Kickoff for 2023
The Freedom of Movement Council recently held a kickoff meeting in Helsingborg, where the guidelines for this year’s work were drawn up. Among other things, the council’s ten members agreed on some important thematic areas which will be prioritised in 2023.
Digitalisation is one of them. Other areas thematic areas include tax issues and the recognition of professional qualifications between the Nordic countries – issues that affect tens of thousands of people.
But why is freedom of movement so important?
“If we remove obstacles to freedom of movement, companies will find it easier to expand into neighbouring countries or to source the skills they need on the other side of the border. Businesses will benefit, and it will become easier and more attractive for people to take a job on the other side of the border. Our societies benefit from that,” concludes Siv.
The Freedom of Movement Council is an independent political body tasked by the Nordic governments with promoting freedom of movement in the Nordic Region for the benefit of both individuals and businesses. The Freedom of Movement Council started its activities in 2014.
The Freedom of Movement Council works in co-operation with the Nordic Council of Ministers’ information service, Info Norden, and the three cross-border information services – the North Calotte Cross-Border Advice Service, Grensetjänsten Norge-Sverige, and Øresunddirekt.
The aim is for the council to solve between five and eight specific obstacles to freedom of movement each year.
Meeting of the Freedom of Movement Council in 2023 Siv Friðleifsdóttir, Iceland; Annette Lind, Denmark; Vibeke Hammer Madsen, Norway; Kimmo Sasi, Finland; Sven-Erik Bucht, Sweden; Jens Heinrich, Greenland; John Johannessen, Faroe Islands; Max Andersson, Åland; Karen Ellemann, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers; Kjell-Arne Ottosson, representative of the Nordic Council.