New Report: Nordic Cooperation amid pandemic travel restrictions

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a multi-level stress test for the Nordic Region. National pandemic measures have challenged the strong basis of open borders and free movement in Nordic cooperation. Nordregio Researchers Fellows, together with researchers from other institutions, have recently published a report ‘Nordic Cooperation amid pandemic travel restrictions’, drawing attention to the preparedness of the Nordic Region to jointly confront global crises at both national and local levels.

The report explores strategies and travel restrictions adopted by four Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and studies how the Nordic cooperation functioned in a crisis. At the local level, it examines the economic, labour market and social implications for three cross-border regions, Tornedalen (FI-SE border), Öresund (DK-SE border) and Svinesund (NO-SE border).

While there is room for improvement in handling a crisis like the pandemic, the publication finds that there are diverging views on the desirability to have all-Nordic approaches to situations affecting national security. Measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have taken a toll on society at large. However, the severe impacts observed in border areas have exposed the fragility of communities and businesses located along national borders to global crises. 

“Although it is, unsurprising, and perhaps even expected, that each country was to adopt their own national strategy to the pandemic, rather than a joint one; what is most striking, is the blindness towards the social cost of inward-looking policies,” says Mari Wøien Meijer, Research Fellow at Nordregio.

Border restrictions undermine all aspects of life and business in border communities. The disruption of people’s lives in border areas has been challenging, frustrating, and a wake-up call to the realities of those choosing a borderless life. Several themes emerge from the cases in these four Nordic countries, including trust, the impact of the measures and border closures, regional economic structural changes, and changing social structures.

One of the most valuable contributions of this report is the nuances identified about trust and their implications.

“Trust is the glue that keeps collaboration in place at every level. Be it amongst family members, friends, business partners, and institutions, both political and non-political. Fear is the symptom or the result of distrust and occurs when we draw distinct lines between ‘us and them’. Policy-makers need to act upon the lessons of the pandemic if we are to rebuild trust, and particularly, trust on the possibility of living a normal life across borders,” concludes Alberto Giacometti, Research Fellow at Nordregio.

The research project aims to contribute to discussions about the consequences of the measures for society, the economy, and the political costs. 

The study was funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and led by the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs. The partners in the project explored the political discourse at national and supranational (Nordic) levels, whereas Nordregio delved into the situation that unfolded on the ground in the border regions.

Read the publication here.