Oresund (Denmark-Sweden)

The Oresund is the most well-known example of European cross-border collaboration, building on the metropolitan area around Copenhagen and, across the sound, southern Sweden with the cities of Malmo, Lund and Helsingborg. Cross-border integration intensified following the opening of a fixed-link bridge/tunnel in 2000. Commuting, student flows and cross-border residency have been on the rise in this knowledge-intensive area. Cross-border cluster efforts have had varying degrees of longevity, with Medicon Valley being the most internationally known brand. After hitting a plateau in terms of integration, the area is seeking renewed inspiration for cross-border efforts.

This chapter is an excerpt of Nauwelaers, C., K. Maguire and G. Ajmone Marsan (2013), “The case of Oresund (Denmark-Sweden) - Regions and Innovation: Collaborating Across Borders”, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, No. 2013/21, OECD Publishing, Paris,

http://dx. doi.org/10.1787/10.1787/5k3xv0lk8knn-en.


The Oresund Region enjoys a long history of cross-border interaction and co-operation. Historically, the Swedish region of Skane was part of the kingdom of Denmark. Under the 1658 Treaty of Roskilde, territories now included in the Skane region were transferred from Denmark to Sweden, but Danish remained the official language until the early 19th century. The idea of a bridge across the sound was born at the end of the 19th century. Denmark and Sweden, like other countries in the Nordic space, have a long tradition of intergovernmental co-operation. A cross-border Council, made up of politicians from both sides, existed back in 1963 and raised the possibility of a bridge and a joint urban area of “Orestad”. The decision to build a bridge was fiercely debated before the final decision was reached to go forward in 1991. At that time, the decline of traditional industries and the closure of shipyards, car and textile factories had visible effects on unemployment figures on both sides of the sound. A political Committee was formally established for the Oresund in 1993, in anticipation of the bridge, to get the most out of the investment once it opened in 2000.

The Oresund is the most widely publicised flagship model of cross-border EU integration. “Borders, bridge and branding” (Hospers, 2006) is a shortcut for the success story. Overcoming border problems thanks to a bridge and with the help of area branding are seen as keys towards the creation of a new, wealth-generating functional region. The opening of the bridge has facilitated the movement of people and goods across the border, in line with the European Union ideal of a space without borders. With the strongly branded Medicon Valley, the value of cross-border science and technology co-operation in high-technology fields, such as life science, has been an important element of the Oresund model.

More than ten years after the symbolic bridge opening, the Oresund is in search of a new chapter for its collaboration. The bridge, while initially the catalyst for greater integration, is no longer sufficient. After integration jumped in the years following the opening of the bridge, the crisis and changing price differentials have contributed to the current stagnation in integration and cross-border mobility. The Oresund integration index, capturing various dimensions of the functional area, has slightly declined over the last four years. The delocalisation of large multinational companies and an ageing population are common threats to the cross-border region; therefore, raising its attractiveness is a common need for both sides of the Oresund. For politicians, the bridge is now a past achievement, and a new symbolic vision is needed. Some in the area are looking to the new scientific infrastructure in Skane as one of the catalysers for renewed co-operation. An increased emphasis on cross-border innovation can be the new engine for cross-border co-operation, with policy efforts that contribute to a positive sum game for both sides.

Figure 8.1. The Oresund cross-border area

Note: This document and any map included herein are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries.

Source: OECD (2013), OECD eXplorer, www.oecd.org/gov/regional-policy/oecdexplorer.htm (accessed 15 October 2013).

Table 8.1. Socio-economic overview: The Oresund


Capital Region of Denmark



Total Danish part of the Oresund




Population (2011)

1.7 million

0.8 million

2.5 million

1.2 million

3.8 million (67% Denmark; 33% Sweden)

Surface (km2) (2011)

2 546

7 217

9 763

11 035

  • 20 800
  • (47% Denmark; 53% Sweden)

Population density (inhabitants/km2) (2011)






Main cities





Unemployment rate (2012)

7.8% (2010)

6.7% (2010)



GDP per capita (USD, PPP, 2009)

46 552

27 938

40 117

32 250

37 703

|GDP growth (2000-09)






Sources: OECD (2013), OECD Regional Statistics (database), http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/region-data-en; Orestat database, www.orestat.se,www.orestat.dk.

Table 8.2. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for cross-border innovation policy: The Oresund



  • - Enhanced internal accessibility after opening of the bridge and increased integration
  • - International airport serving the whole area
  • - Strong endowments in universities, S&T capacities, resources and skills
  • - High level of innovation, strong clusters in life science (Medicon Valley) and cleantech
  • - Infrastructure for start-ups and entrepreneurs
  • - Long history of cross-border co-operation
  • - Linguistic and cultural proximity
  • - Legitimacy, stability and political endorsement with the Oresund Committee
  • - Cross-border vision with ORUS
  • - More strategic use of European Territorial Co-operation (Interreg) funding than in many other cross-border areas, focus on innovation in 2014-20
  • - Regional and cross-border development strategies with a strong focus on innovation
  • - Numerous cross-border initiatives
  • - Area branding
  • - Presence of cross-border policy intelligence tools (Orestat, Oresund Institute, etc.)
  • - Stagnating to declining integration post crisis
  • - Termination of significant cross-border initiatives (Oresund University, Oresund Science Region)
  • - Regulatory obstacles for cross-border labour market integration
  • - I mbalance in economic power of the two sides in their national context (stronger in Denmark)
  • - Imbalance in political commitment and citizen identity on both sides of the border (stronger from Skane)
  • - Relatively weak national interest and support for cross-border co-operation, innovation
  • - Growing regional imbalances between the core and the periphery of the Oresund
  • - Insufficient private sector involvement in strategy and policy development
  • - Dependence on European Territorial Co-operation (Interreg) funding sources; not conducive to private sector participation
  • - Insufficient level of venture capital sources for the entire cross-border area



  • - Joining forces for accessing EU competitive funds (e.g. getting Knowledge and Innovation Communities [KIC] and large knowledge-based investments)
  • - Large scientific infrastructures such as the European Spallation Source (ESS) as assets for the Oresund international brand
  • - Opportunities in the strong health sector, facilitating cross-border patient mobility
  • - Cross-border perspective in respective national innovation instruments
  • - Additional connections in the cross-border area (metro from Copenhagen to Malmo in the south and tunnel/bridge from Helsingor to Helsingborg in the north)
  • - Further co-operation with neighbouring regions (Oslo-Hamburg corridor), better integration in global hubs
  • - Common labour shortages leading to increased competition between the two sides for external talent
  • - Stronger global competitors in life science (a key Oresund sector) and other fields
  • - Delocalisation or job cuts of key multinationals (recent examples of AstraZeneca and Nokia)
  • - Future funding difficulties for cross-border data and statistics (Orestat)
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