Sunday, December 25, 2011

Crossing the Scandinavian Waters: Oresund Bridge

by Katalin Molnarfi

Copenhagen is a fairly small, but rather cool and well-run city, dressed with posters advertising green energy. Though nothing characterises it more than its delicate Oresund Bridge, the longest of its type in Europe, and winner of the IABSE Outstanding Structure Award. Board a train in Copenhagen and in a comfortable twenty minutes you will find yourself in Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city. The Copenhagen international airport is also a mere fifteen minutes far away, connecting the bridge with the rest of the world. This year marks the 11th anniversary that Sweden and Denmark opened their much-talked-about bridge-and-tunnel across the Oresund strait, four months ahead of the original schedule and under budget . Yes, ahead. These Nordic people are an exceptionally professional bunch.

Denmark with its more than 400 islands is understandably ideal for bridge-lovers and already boasts two of the world's most impressive: the Great Belt Fixed Link between East- and West Denmark, and the Oresund bridge. And how about linking eastern Denmark more directly with Germany’s Baltic Sea coastline, a three-hour direct journey to, say, Hamburg? The government has already announced an even grander project for the country's biggest large scale fixed-link: a 19-kilometre road and rail bridge across the Fehmarn strait between Denmark and Germany in order to create a new growth area, similar to the development that has taken place in the Oresund region .

Birth of a new region
The Oresund brigde undeniably folstered growth, giving boost  to both Malmo and Copenhagen. It was designed to serve an explicit dual purpose: cross-border integration, with a particular emphasis on regional productivity, and competitive vitality, as well as the concentration of the North-European pattern of traffic flows. It should function as a backbone of the Oresund Region in order to abolish economic, administrative, institutional, cultural and other barriers, in one common urban system - the integration of Greater Copenhagen and the Malmö-Lund agglomeration, while encouraging citizens to cross the shared border more easily, and give incentives to foreign investors to use the area as a hub of development. Today's Oresund region  with a population of over 3 M produces 26-27 % of Sweden and Denmark's joint GDP, being of  the the most buoyant region in Scandinavia.

A common labour market
The bridge has turned the Oresund area into a single job market. As the  time-distance barrier was reduced dramatically, and the land-see bottleneck was eliminated, the traffic is steadily increasing: every day: 20.000 people commute to work between Sweden and Denmark. A daily average of 19.400 vehicles crossed the Oresund bridge in 2011. All forms of trafic have increased, but commuting has shown the strongest increase by far. Though the past three years brought low growth years for the bridge, mainly as a result of a sharp fall in economic activity caused by the turmoil of the financial crisis, the traffic did not decrease until 2010 (also due to the Swedish krona, which then recovered its former strength in 2010). In addition to greater accessibility, growth in commuting has been driven by the dramatically rising house prices, as well as the increased workforce shortages in the Greater Copenhagen area. Commuting is, therefore, embarassingly one- directional, with around 96 per cent of all commuters living in Sweden and keeping their jobs in the other side of the Oresund. In general, commuters are well-educated and well-paid young people, being pronounced targets of the bridge's policy.

Nordic countries: a happy family?
Nordic identity is alive and well: these countries have a great many things in common, though the Swedes and the Danes were not always the best friends through history (the Oresund area was under Danish authority until 1658). There is certainly a Nordic way of doing business for instance, with consensus as its main watchword. The Nordics put  greater emphasis on partnership and co-operation than most other European counterparts. Then there is religion, Martin Luther, whose reforms left a powerful cultural and moral legacy, leading to exceptionally successful, export-oriented economies. However if the two countries on both sides are to prosper together, Danes and Swedes will have to make efforts of further harmonising labour, tax and social policies. The Oresund region could therefore become a laboratory of transnational regional co-operation within the EU. Development towards a bi-national, integrated, functional urban region is in progress, though the space is much slower, than expected, but doing fairly well. 


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