Tornio and Haparanda are two towns situated on either side of the Finnish-Swedish border, which is delineated by the Torne river. The two cities have been cooperating in daily life since the 1960s. The populations communicate without any language barrier: people easily switch between Finnish, Swedish and Meänkieli (regional dialects). Moreover, citizens commute daily across the border for work, recreation and shopping. The two towns are also linked through the steel-making industry which creates the highest number of jobs in the region. Cooperation between the two cities officially began in 1987 with the launch of the cross-border association ‘Provincia Bothniensis’ and the merging of the the two city names (and logos). Before that, cooperation took the form of bilateral agreements for the provision of public services and facilities. This consisted of projects such as the swimming pool in Haparanda, wastewater treatment and waste management, the sludge treatment and emergency, and fire and rescue services. In 1998, a joint tourist office was created in order to expand the fields of cooperation.
Finland and Sweden
Map taken from: Google Maps
Provincia Bothniensis leads cross-border cooperation between Tornio and Haparanda.
In pursuing its objectives, Provincia Bothniensis is involved in different projects both at national and international level. For instance, the Tornio-Haparanda area has set new objectives within the framework of the “Europe 2020” Strategy and has been supported by the Interreg IV A North operational programme (2007-2013) in developing cross-border projects in the areas of education, training, employment and the environment.
In terms of governance, the joint body has a Board composed of five elected officials from each municipality, who they gather every two months. The structure has no legal status and can therefore only prepare decisions to be discussed within each municipal council. However, thanks to relatively similar planning processes in Sweden and Finland, with similar regulatory framework, a common municipal planning has worked out well in enabling cross-border cooperation and ensuring its added value over the years. The Board is also supported by different thematic working groups (education, urban planning, sport, recreation, culture, welfare, and healthcare).
The twin city Haparanda-Tornio is often mentioned at EU level as one of the most advanced examples in terms of cross-border cooperation. The cooperation can boast of many successes, such as:
- The Travel Centre, situated in the Swedish side, which represents a shared base of information for tourism. Moreover, the tourist operators promote the visibility and attractiveness of the whole area by delivering a wide range of integrated activities (adventures, culture, or food and drink initiatives throughout the year) and offering accommodation solutions.
- The Provincial Museum of Tornio Valley, opened in early 1914 and renovated between 2011 and 2014, which showcases the history of the Torne Valley region on both sides of the river;
- Victoria Square, named after Sweden’s crown princess and inaugurated in 2011 by the crown princess herself, which is the shared marketplace of the city and hosts artworks designed by local youngster. Interestingly, the time zone changes in the middle of the square, making it a popular place to celebrate New Years’s Eve.
- The Language School at Tornio-Haparanda’s common elementary school (located in the Swedish side), where pupils coming from Finland can also learn about their home region-s history and culture.
One of the most remarkable results was the creation of a shared district which was launched in 1995 through a competition for urban development, and whose construction began in 2005. The district hosts both housing and commercial spaces and experienced a rapid in 2006, when the Swedish company IKEA opened an outlet and other companies followed.
More generally, Haparanda-Tornio is strongly committed to promoting the quality of life of its population and social cohesion. The similar economic and social profile of the two cities has created the conditions for implementing shared actions and creating concrete growth opportunities in the area. Educational projects (such as the Language School) are a successful example of the desire to transmit the partnership’s added valued from one generation to another.
The management of the COVID-19 crisis can also be considered an important achievement due to the implementation of joint preventing actions, general guidelines, joint contacts and information on border traffic provided to cross-border citizens.