How to solve the lack of cross-border statistics

03.03.21 | News
norsksvenska gränsen stängd
Lasse Edwartz/TT/Ritzau Scanpix
Quite suddenly, the tens of thousands of people who usually cross a Nordic border to work are being seen and heard. Not only has the closure of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives and incomes, it has laid bare a structural problem of Nordic co-operation: the lack of official cross-border statistics.

Now that borders are temporarily closed, these murky figures are giving rise to new issues.

Border municipalities around the Nordic Region are struggling to anticipate the costs of unemployed cross-border commuters who need support in their home countries.

Consequently, the lack of statistics render both the problems and the potential of freedom of movement in the Nordic Region invisible. 

    Possible solutions

    However, there do appear to be solutions to the statistics issue. Projects are underway in Europe and the Öresund region to produce reliable cross-border statistics.


    “Including the Nordic Region in our European pilot project is at the top of our wish list,” says Johan van der Valk of Statistics Netherlands who is running the Crossborder Statistics projects that includes seven European countries.


    Johan van der Valk was one of the experts on and users of cross-border statistics who the Nordic Council of Ministers invited to help identify new solutions in connection with the launch of the report Nordic cross-border statistics on 25 February.

    Microdata – a sensitive issue

    Keeping statistics on those who work or study in a neighbouring country is not part of the official remit for the Nordic countries’ statistics bureaus. And when the bureaus do work together in this area, the countries’ legislation on microdata – i.e. data at individual level – collides.


    Sweden’s strong principle of transparency means that neighbouring countries are reluctant to disclose microdata to Statistics Sweden, as some of the data may also be available to other Swedish authorities.


    Major consequences for border regions

    Both statisticians and users agree that the lack of reliable statistics has major consequences for the Nordic countries’ border regions and for the development of freedom of movement in the Nordic Region.


    “It affects us a lot. If we don’t know how many people are commuting for work, or the potential for growth in our area, we can’t create well-motivated and correct policies,” says Ulrika Geeraedts, development director for Region Skåne in Sweden.

      Incorrect forecasts of child poverty

      She gives some examples:

      “There are 85 municipalities in Sweden and Denmark working together in the Greater Copenhagen Committee to attract investors and labour to our companies in the life science and gaming industries. But it’s difficult for us to market the area without accurate information.

      Such information is also needed at national level. In Malmö, we probably count an excessively high level of child poverty, as income from parents working in Denmark is not visible in the statistics,” says Geeraedts.


      The solution may be to get around the problem of differences in the countries’ legislation on personal data.

        Less accurate but robust

        A pilot study is being launched, funded by Region Skåne, in which Denmark and Sweden are jointly producing statistics relating to the labour market without exchanging microdata, i.e. data at individual level.


        Although the results are believed to not be quite as accurate, van der Valk who is running the European Crossborder Statistics project believes that robust statistics can be produced without sharing personal data.

          Increased awareness on privacy issues

          “We can see that privacy is becoming increasingly important. When American companies use personal data without asking, people become more aware and hesitant. I’m concerned that the statistical institutes will suffer as a result.

          We therefore need to invent other methods of producing statistics. This will not be at the micro level, but will use technically sophisticated methods to produce data on commuting and income levels that is valuable to all the countries involved,” says van der Valk.