Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sweden, Denmark put heavy load on bridge

USA TODAY - Monday, June 19, 2000
Author: Steven Komarow

More than 300 years ago, Sweden chased Denmark 's warriors from its shores, west across the waters called the Oresund. The Danes gave up their ambitions for southern Sweden, and the two nations gradually became friendly competitors.

Now, ''we're conquering it back again,'' says Niels Boserup, managing director of the Copenhagen airport. ''It's already happened inside people's heads."

And before their eyes.

At 11 p.m. July 1, Denmark and Sweden will open a $4 billion, 10-mile long bridge and tunnel route, called the Oresund Fixed Link, that will connect the two nations as never before. It also marks the first transcontinental land link through Western Europe from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea.

Cars, trucks and trains will need just 20 minutes to make a crossing that takes more than an hour by ferry. Waters once plied by Vikings will become scenery for commuters. Whether that means Copenhagen will reconquer southern Sweden is something of a joke. But the economic forces that link Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city after Stockholm and Göteborg, are very real. Business leaders say that the bigger, united metropolitan area is the only way to provide the financial and intellectual clout needed to compete in the world economy.

''We have the talented people that are needed,'' says Michael Hasselris of IBM, which has more than 3,000 employees in the area. But to compete globally, ''you need the critical mass.''

Only about 2,500 people commute across the Oresund today, according to official figures. That total is expected to increase five times when the Link opens, then gradually increase.

Copenhagen, with two-thirds of the region's 3 million people, will be the anchor. It has the financial institutions, seaport, international airport and other amenities. Southern Sweden brings open land to grow and a solid academic base. The University of Lund is that nation's largest. Next door to the university is Ideon, a government-subsidized office park where medical and electronics technology startups get special support. Among its success stories: Ericsson, the now-mammoth Swedish wireless communications firm.

Civic leaders, eager for U.S. investment, promote comparisons of their region with San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Marketing brochures brag of a ''Medicon Valley,'' which alludes to the high number of pharmaceutical firms in the region. English is the second language and is spoken by 75% of the population.

To make the Link a success, however, will require a daunting degree of cooperation between two sovereign nations that cherish their independence and do business in markedly different ways.

''We have a cultural revolution in front of us,'' says Pia Gjellerup, Denmark 's minister of business and industry. ''We have the chance here. We can use it, or we can fail. The window is open now.''

The Swedish and Danish governments have opened branch offices on each other's shores to help untangle the paperwork problems facing those who want to work on the other side. Though both countries have extensive social medicine and ''safety net'' programs, they finance them in opposite ways. Denmark uses individual taxes ; Sweden relies on corporate payroll levies.

There's also already a whiff of cross-Link competition: Denmark is considering lowering its corporate income tax rate from 32% to match Sweden's 28%.

An issue on both sides is the toll. The occasional user must plunk down about $28 to drive across. Buses will pay more than $100. Commuters get a break, but the toll will still be about $15 per vehicle per crossing.

Business and government leaders support a reduction. However, no one has come up with an alternative for repaying the bonds that financed the project.

Even before opening, the Link has attracted investment. Two American hotels are under construction in Copenhagen. DaimlerChrysler moved its regional offices from Stockholm to Malmo.

Lisa Drakeman, CEO of Genmab A/S, a biotech company spun off by Mederex of Princeton, N.J., says she chose Copenhagen because the people ''have a very positive outlook toward technology.''

Her company is using genetically engineered mice in hopes of producing a new class of medicines. The mice produce human antibodies that, if successful, would fight autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Connecting Sweden and Denmark will help ensure that Genmab has the talent pool it needs to expand, she says.

More Genmabs, electronics companies and financial institutions are what the region hopes to attract. Though bountiful in scenery and tourist attractions, such as the Little Mermaid statue and Tivoli gardens in Copenhagen, there are no natural resources besides people.

Surveys show 70% of the area's homes have computers. After Finland, Denmark and Sweden have the highest per-capita use of wireless voice and data devices in the world. ''You're not going to go to Denmark to smelt steel,'' says Richard Swett, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark .

Businesses now operating on both sides of the Oresund are confident of success.

''When this bridge is open, you can't stop the forces,'' says Thomas Haagendal, a top manager with Primant, a computer services company. It will be ''the most interesting growth area in Europe, or maybe the world, in the next decade.''

Others are more doubtful. The Link is just part of the story.

Although its physical isolation is being overcome, the region has refused to fully integrate with Europe in other ways. Neither Sweden nor Denmark has joined the European economic system or the new currency, the euro, which will supplant member nations' currencies in two years.

Per Tryding of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern Sweden says the bridge will give the region ''special momentum'' that could be blunted if the euro is not adopted.

Denmark is scheduled to vote on the euro in September. Many predict it will fail. As much as Scandinavia wants to compete in global markets, its people, especially the Danes, worry about being overwhelmed by the European powers, including France and especially Germany, which occupied Denmark in World War II.
Caption: GRAPHIC, B/W, Keith Simmons, USA TODAY (Map); PHOTO, B/W, Claes Hall, Reuters; PHOTO, B/W, Henrik Montgomery, AFP
'Window is open': The Oresund bridge-tunnel route links Malmo, Sweden, seen above, with Copenhagen. Exercise in cooperation: Cyclists take a spin on the new span June 9. The Oresund Fixed Link opens to car, truck and train traffic July 1.
Memo: The World; Nations see the $4 billion project as key to regional prosperity, but final toll is yet to be determined.