Ikea on the Border: Cross-National Co-operation in Lapland

by Leena-Mari Laukkanen

As we have pointed out in our recent article about the Øresund Bridge  cross-national cooperation in the Nordic World is an interesting phenomenon. In Southern Sweden and Northern Denmark, Malmö and Copenhagen have together created a working concept of a twin city. The Øresund bridge linking the two towns gave their inhabitants the freedom of choice; often Malmö residents may find suitable employment prospects from Copenhagen and the other way round. Thereby, crossing the border becomes a daily activity and services of two countries become available for local population.

Even though one might find the concept of the twin city rather unique, we do not need to look far for further examples. In the region of Lapland straddling Finland and Sweden, the cities of Tornio on the Finnish side and Haparanda on the Swedish have pooled their resources to create a twin city, benefitting their 30,000 inhabitants and occasional visitors.

Similar to the Swedish-Danish cooperation, Tornio and Haparanda are also connected by a bridge. Situated above the Torne River, the bridge is an absolute necessity to ensure their efficient cooperation. Every day hundreds (or even thousands) of people cross the river for their daily activities  and the concept of national border is rather blurry there: one might say that the only thing knowing you are “abroad” is the time zone. There is one hour difference between Finland and Sweden, Finland being an hour behind (GMT +2). Obviously languages are different and not even closely related, but as Swedish is one of the official languages in Finland (albeit not very widely used) the language barrier is not as visible as one might expect.

The Torne river flowing between Tornio and Haparanda
Copyright © http://www.espaces-transfrontaliers.org

Despite the fact that Tornio-Haparanda is located on the European periphery, closer to the Arctic Circle than to the vibrant capitals of Helsinki and Stockholm in the south, the economic area manages relatively well. As a matter of fact, the city has managed to brand itself wisely and attract investors: it is considered as a commercial centre of the northern part of both countries. The city officials say that over three million people pay a visit to the trading centre per year which is an impressive number and an important source of income to the area. Locals and visitors may enjoy the northern exoticism with freezing winters and endless summer nights, but Tornio-Haparanda also has a great variety of shops and and other amenities to offer: The shopping centre RajallaPåGränsen is located presicely between Finland and Sweden and can boast a broad range of high street stores and resturants that are missing from many bigger cities. Haparanda can also add IKEA to the shopping scene, which creates even more jobs and attracts visitors from distance. People are used to long travel distances in Lapland, but visitors from nothern parts of Norway and Russia have also discovered Tornio-Haparanda as their shopping destination.

Samu Sinisalo, aged 26, moved to Tornio a year ago from Southern Finland, where people have not experienced such a co-operation across borders.  He admits that he admires the concept:   -”Even though cultures in Finland and Sweden are rather similar, there is still something exotic and unique about crossing the border” he says and adds: ”think about jogging: going for a jog to another country is something not everyone is able to experience all the time”. Furthermore, he emphasizes the importance of the concept to the service sector and confirms what has earlier been established: there are much more services available and a greater variety too.

As earlier mentioned, the uniqueness of such city is fairly uncommon outside the Nordic region and even within the countries it remains relatively unknown. However, understanding that due to geographical reasons building a working twin city is not often possible yet it provides a good framework for developing cross-national cooperation between states.

CTB asks from it’s readers now, what are your experiences of cross-national cooperation if any?

Leena-Mari Laukkanen is based in Eastern Finland and acts as one of Crossing the Baltic’s Finland correspondants. She holds an MA in Economics from the University of Glasgow.

One comment

  1. […] with the examples of Malmø and Copenhagen, connected through the Øresund Bridge and the towns of Tornio and Haparanda in Finnish and Swedish Lapland that are also connected via a […]

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