Ferry firm fights new ID checks in Sweden

A company that operates car ferries between Sweden and Denmark has reported the Swedish government to the European Commission for forcing it to carry out ID checks on passengers.

Ferry firm fights new ID checks in Sweden
HH ferry at Helsingør. Photo: Guillaume Baviere/Flickr

HH Ferries Group, the Danish-based firm which operates the service from Helsingør to Helsingborg, claims that the cost of the controls, which it estimates at 100,000 Danish kroner ($14,000) a day, will not be borne by the operator of the Öresund Bridge, its major competitor. 

It is reporting Sweden to the European Commission for violating competition rules, arguing that the Öresund Bridge Consortium, a joint venture partly owned by the Swedish government, was being given preferential treatment. 

“Motorists who use the Öresund Bridge will be checked for the first time when they arrive in Sweden, and that will be done by the Swedish authorities,” Henrik Rørbæk, the company’s chief executive, told Sweden’s TT newswires.

The company is also reporting the Swedish government to the commission for infringing the Schengen border agreement.

HH Ferries announced its move a day after the state rail operator DSB threatened to levy a supplementary charge on passengers travelling to Sweden to cover the costs of the ID checks, which come into force on January 4th. 

Sweden announced in November that it would require transport companies operating trains and ferries to the Nordic country from Denmark to carry out ID checks on all customers crossing into Sweden, as part of efforts to limit the number of refugees heading north.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has been highly critical of the Swedish plan, calling it “a very unfortunate situation” which would endanger the billions spent on building infrastructure and carrying out marketing to create a connected cross-border Öresund Region linking Malmö and Copenhagen. 

According to broadcaster TV2, HH Ferries has hired a private security company to carry out the ID checks. 

The company is owned by First State Investments, an Australian infrastructure fund. 

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Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses

Kirsten, a Dane from Copenhagen, has been spending her weekends at her wooden holiday house in the Skåne countryside throughout Denmark's lockdown -- and to the irritation of Swedes barred from travelling in the other direction, she is far from unusual.

Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses
Kirsten enjoying coffee on her terrace in Skåne. Photo: Richard Orange
“We chose not to follow the government's recommendation because we thought we have important things to do here and we don't socialize with our neighbours at this moment,” she explains when The Local visits her at her house near the village or Rörum in the Swedish holiday district of Österlen. 
“So we get out of Copenhagen and we stay at our own house and in our garden and don't talk to anyone. So we're even safer here than in Copenhagen.”
She points out that the head of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, had said from the start that closing borders had been a “political” decision, which had not been recommended by health experts.  
Since Denmark closed its borders on March 14th, Danish residents  have officially been advised not to cross the border into Sweden unless it is “strictly necessary”, even if the latest advice from the foreign ministry is that they do not need to quarantine. 
When Denmark opened the border to tourists from the Nordic countries on June 18th, it left every county in Sweden apart from Västerbotten off its list of “open regions”, meaning the travel advisory for Danes still applies to Skåne. 
The updated guidelines on July 4th expanded the list of Swedish “open regions” to Blekinge and Kronoberg. 
But crossing the Øresund Bridge and driving out to southeastern Skåne been part of Kirsten and her husband's weekly ritual since they bought the house 15 years ago, and it's easy to see why they would be reluctant to leave the house and its beautiful garden untended. 
“I have to take care of my kitchen garden and my greenhouse,” she says pointing to an area — fenced in to keep out deer and wild boar — which is brimming with strawberries, rocket and unusual varieties of cabbage. 
“It would be two or three times as expensive to buy a home in Denmark,” she adds. “We come here all year round, so it's not just a summer house for us.”
For most of the lockdown period, no one really seemed to mind that Danes were visiting their holiday houses in Skåne and Småland. It was only when the lockdown was being slowly lifted that the sentiment suddenly changed. 
“They changed the rhetoric when one Sunday it took two hours to pass the bridge. And we were in that queue. And suddenly all hell broke loose in Denmark and everything was on the news and in the newspapers and companies had to send out new regulation warnings to their employees,” she says. 
“But before that, there was no problem. And we still see a lot of Danish cars on the streets and we know other Danes who also have chosen not to follow the regulations.” 
The couple nonetheless mostly kept their weekly trips secret. 
“I didn't tell anyone in the beginning,” she explains. “We have a doctor in the family that that could lose their job if they do not follow the recommendations.” 
She doesn't think that the flurry of newspaper article about Danes flouting the government's advice has had any impact on the number of Danes she sees crossing the bridge and back over the weekend. 
But some people have clearly stopped. At the nearby port of Ystad, Mia and Rune are taking the ferry to holiday in Bornholm rather than visiting their summer house near the Swedish city of Kalmar, as they have decided to follow the Danish government's recommendations.
“I have to follow the orders from Denmark, of course, but I think it's kind of funny that I can go to Bornholm, but I cannot go to my summer house in Sweden which is out in the countryside,” she said. 
“It's a little silly,” her husband adds. “If we can go the other way, they should be able to go our way as well.”
But Kerstin suspects that many of the cars she sees leaving Copenhagen on Fridays are not simply using Sweden as a bridge to cross over into Bornholm. 
“And if they are all going to Bornholm, some of them are taking a big detour because they head straight off on the road to Stockholm!” she laughs.