– I don’t like to use the word unfair. But they are two equal offices and it should just be that they do not receive equal treatment when it comes to money from the state, says mayor Geir Varvik.
He has sent an e-mail to the government where he will receive similar treatment.
Ancient traffic is affected by new rules
The traffic across the border from Skibotn to Northern Finland and Northern Sweden is not new, it has long traditions. And in the past, the traffic went to and fro without the major obstacles, other than the weather and road and distances.
Today, the challenges are different. Different laws and regulations on each side of the border mean that many have problems when they have to move or have other needs, as it is desirable to establish a business on the other side of the borders.
Then the Nordkalotten border service, with an office in Skibotn, is there to help.
– Our job is to assist both companies and individuals with all kinds of challenges that they may face in everyday life when they have to cross borders. This applies to both private matters and businesses, says consultant Willy Ørnebakk.
Nordkalotten border service is owned by Nordkalottrådet, which is an association of Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish county municipalities in Nordkalotten. It is part of the Nordic Council’s information apparatus and is financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers in Copenhagen.
More and more people want help
Since the beginning a year ago, the office has appeared with more and more needs for different things. The number of inquiries increased from 200 in 2012 to 4,000 five years later. In 2019, around 35,000 visited their websites, while two years later this had increased to over 50,000.
– It is a formidable influx of inquiries. We keep statistics and record this and that pillar going “straight up”, says Ørnebakk.
Especially during the pandemic, the municipality noticed the need for the service, says Varvik. Many then wondered which rules applied in Finland and Sweden.
– Then we could use the border service and the contacts we had built up to find out what it is that you have to do to get to Finland or Sweden. And then we saw the importance, says Varvik.
Do not understand that the state discriminates
The information service consists of three offices. One is located in Øresund and applies to the border with Sweden – Denmark. The office in Eidskog in Innlandet will take care of the traffic between Norway and Sweden. In Skibotn there is the office that takes care of border crossings on the Nordkalotten, to both Sweden and Finland.
The two offices in Øresund and Eidskog both receive grants from the Swedish and Norwegian states respectively. The office in Skibotn does not get that.
For Varvik and Ørnebakk, it is difficult to understand that the two offices in Norway are not treated equally by the Norwegian state. The office in Eidskog receives DKK 750,000 each year from the state budget, which it has received for many years. The office in Storfjord does not get that.
This has led to Storfjord municipality having to step in with money from time to time. Varvik believes it is unreasonable that Storfjord, as the host municipality, should have to cover the costs incurred by the service. Due to holiday development, Varvik cannot be exact how much money they have spent on the border service.
– After all, we have had border services for ten years and we are basically a host municipality, so we have to spend zero kroner. But over the ten years, some hundreds of thousands of kroner have gone from our municipal budget, he says.
Must apply for project money
The funding from the Nordic Council of Ministers of DKK 1.1 million has been stagnant for many years, says Ørnebakk. Instead, the office has had to obtain funding through various projects to which Troms and Finnmark county council have contributed. Per immediately financed for positions by project funds from Troms Holding.
– Financing operations through project funds is a cumbersome way of operating, says Ørnebakk.
He says they would not have been able to solve the task without the project funds from the county municipality.
– It is this stability that we have not been able to get for her that they have managed to get, and that is what I hope we manage to find a solution to.
In the early summer, Varvik sent an e-mail to the Ministry of Labor and Inclusion in which he pointed out this differential treatment. Well, he has a call.
– Deterring ten-year anniversary of the border service in September. Well, some minister has a great reason to come to Tromsø and say: Listen, their application is approved. You get the same funds as you get at Eidskog, he says.
State Secretary Maria Walberg Schumacher in the Department of Labor and Inclusion says they have received inquiries from the mayor in Storfjord, and the matter is currently being assessed in the department. They will not say anything about the matter beyond this.