Free Movement of Labour | Made in Germany - The Business Magazine | DW | 30.04.2004
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Made in Germany

Free Movement of Labour

On paper, every EU citizen has the right to live and work anywhere in the Union. But only few actually make use of it. Pernilla Wiberg is one of them. She commutes between Denmark and Sweden.


Cross-border commuter: Pernilla Wiberg, 27

It´s a magnificent sight: the Öresund bridge spanning the straits between Denmark and Sweden. For nearly four years now a 16-kilometre stretch of bridge and tunnel has linked up the two countries. Before that there was only a ferry.

Pernilla Wiberg is a young Swedish woman who commutes to her workplace in Denmark every day, so the magnificent architecture of the bridge is something she is quite used to. "It doesn´t really occur to me any more that I am entering a different country", the 27-year-old says. "But then I talk to people from northern Sweden and they think it´s something special. In contrast to us, they think Denmark is pretty exotic".

The car ride across the water takes some twenty minutes, but apart from Pernilla there aren´t that many cars on the road. Most of the commuters who travel regularly between Denmark and Sweden get on a train. Many think the toll for using the bridge, some 400 Euros a month, is too expensive. In Pernilla´s case it´s paid by her employer. She says she can´t afford it and would otherwise have to use the train instead.

But the toll isn´t the only obstacle for commuters. Danes and Swedes wishing to work in the other country are confronted by all kinds of red tape involving tax, health and pension regulations. The problems exist despite government pledges to create a joint employment market in the Öresund region which links up greater Copenhagen with southern Sweden.

There are only some 6,000 cross-border commuters despite a regional population of some 3.5 million. Economics experts say the figure could increase in the mid-term to some 60,000, but it´s still a long way to go.

It takes about half an hour for Permilla to get from her flat in Malmö to her workplace at Daimler-Chrysler headquarters in Copenhagen where she works as an assistant to the head of Daimler-Chrysler´s Scandinavian division.

Before sitting down at her desk she pops in to the personel department to ask several questions about the tax forms she has to send in to both the Swedish and Danish inland revenue by the 1st of May. Although she pays income tax in Denmark, where she works, she still has to inform the tax authorities in Malmö where she lives.

Some 300 people work here and at Daimler-Chrysler´s technical headquarters in Malmö, many of them commuting from their homes in either Sweden or Denmark. The corporation tries to accomodate them as best as possible. For instance, they can choose between taking Danish or Swedish bank holidays. The corporation has adopted the more generous parental leave model used in Sweden, and even the canteen tries to bridge the culture gap, offering warm lunchtime meals to the Swedes and cold salads with bread to the Danes who prefer it that way.

Permilla often meets up for a meal with her friend Ulrika who is 29, also Swedish and who also does the daily drive from Malmö to Copenhagen. Both ot them say it is an interesting metropolis with lots of well-paid jobs which are scarce in south Sweden. So they don´t mind the insecurity of their highly complicated pension schemes. Noone can explain to them, they say, what their Danish pension rights are worth should they return to Sweden some day.

"But", says Ulrika with a laugh," by the time we´re sixty-five they might have sorted that one out".