Understanding the Swedish – Norwegian border in preparation for a Hard Brexit

03 July 2019

William McGrath, Nordic Market Executive, Stockholm Office



Sweden joined the European Union in 1995 after a 52% majority in the 1994 EU membership referendum. In 1994, Norway held a similar referendum, which lost by a majority of 52.2%. This presented a significant problem for EU member states. How was it going to managing the 1600km border between the two countries? Similar to the current Brexit dilemma, Norway and Sweden wanted to maintain its near-frictionless border, outlined in the 1962 Helsinki Treaty, which established formal customs cooperation between Norway and Sweden along its borders. (Nordic cooperation, 2019)



Today, thousands of Swedes and Norwegians cross the border every day to work, to shop, and for leisure, with limited or zero border checks. They have achieved this through a combination of both sporadic customs checks and the use of customs technology. The result was the creation of 15km “Control Zone” set up on either side of the border. Custom controls can be conducted by officers from either jurisdiction, as long as it is within the 15km control zone. (BMF Business Services, 2019) At the main border crossing at Svinesund, custom’s officers process over 1,300 heavy goods vehicles every day, with waiting times at the border rarely exceeding 20 minutes. (Morris, 2019) Unmanned border posts are also a regular occurrence along the border, many are kitted out with number plate recognition cameras that allow mobile customs units to trace potential cross border smuggling operations. (BMF Business Services, 2019)



Sweden’s border with Norway has been in most parts very effective and is regarded as one of the most advanced customs solutions in the world. Although it might be a good model to replicate the Irish border in the case of a hard Brexit, it must be noted that there are over 300 major & minor border crossing between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, compared to the 80 crossing points between Norway & Sweden. The sheer number of crossings between the North and South of Ireland will play a crucial role in “what and if” there will be any customs border on the island of Ireland.

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