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Oresund Bridge Turns 20 Years Old

On this day 20 years ago, Denmark and Sweden inaugurated the Oresund Bridge (Danish: Øresundsbroen, Swedish: Öresundsbron). The bridge is almost 8 km (about 5 miles) long and, together with a 4 km (2.5 mile) long tunnel and a large, 1.3 km square man-made island, connects the Copenhagen region of Denmark with the Malmö region of Sweden. A contract (available in Prop. 1990/91:158 at 27) was signed between the two countries in 1991, and in 1995 the building began. Globally it may be most famously known from the TV-series the Bridge (Broen), where cross-border and cross-jurisdictional issues were presented by a woman found dead on the middle of the bridge.

Oresund Bridge, as seen traveling by car. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

History of the Oresund Region

The Bridge connects the two countries across the seemingly natural land barrier of Oresund strait. Here, private boats once carried Jews from occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden during World War II. But the history of the strait goes back even further. The battle for the strait was hard-won. In fact, Swedish Skåne (also known as Scania) was part of Denmark until 1658, when it became part of Sweden as part of the Treaty of Roskilde.

For hundreds of years the strait was also heavily taxed, in the form of a “Sound Fee” or “Sound Toll” (Øresundstolden). The Danish King Erik of Pomernia initiated the tolls in the 1400s. In fact, the creation of Göta Canal was in part envisioned because of the strait. By connecting the port of Gothenburg with the port of Stockholm via a domestic canal, the Swedes could avoid the tolls paid to the Danes for passing through the Danish controlled strait. The Sound Fees were abolished in 1857, but the old documents have been preserved in a digital format in The Soundtoll Registers Online, which includes a list of products in different languages.

The Oresund Area Today

Today, the strait is still associated with fees or road tolls paid to finance the building of the bridge and its maintenance. But the tolls are not as hefty and have not hampered transportation. Products move freely between the two countries, and, until recently, the only official controls conducted at the bridge were done to ensure that Swedes were not bringing in too a great quantity of alcohol from (lower taxed) Denmark. However, differences in alcohol tax are not the only difference in policy on the two sides of the strait. In 2015, Denmark and Sweden took sharply different approaches to the refugee crisis, resulting in the imposition of Swedish ID-controls at the border.

View from traveling across Oresund Bridge by train, somewhere between Sweden and Denmark. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

On a normal day thousands of people cross the bridge, which takes 10 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train. But these are not normal times, and the Swedes and Danes are divided once more, this time in their response to COVID-19. Denmark was quick to close its borders to contain the spread of COVID-19. The Swedish borders meanwhile remained open to all European Union (EU) member (and Schengen) states. Reports have claimed that some EU citizens have headed there to have their hair done. When Denmark opened its borders, it originally did not welcome Swedes, then it made exceptions for Swedes from southern Sweden (Skåne, Halland, and Blekinge). As of today, July 1, 2020, Swedes coming to Denmark from southern Sweden as tourists must show a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test .

Even without the pandemic to account for, both Denmark and Sweden, at present, still maintain border controls between their two countries unrelated to COVID-19. Although the Schengen Area allows border-free travel, Sweden and Denmark have used its exceptions to maintain border controls across their respective borders. Sweden cites terrorist threats and shortcomings at the external border, and Denmark cites terrorist threats and organized criminality in Sweden.

In a few weeks, the Oresund region has another milestone to celebrate. It will be 110 years since Robert Svendsen, on July 17, 1910, was the first person to cross the Oresund strait in an airplane.

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