The relation between Sweden and Denmark has been somewhat frosty during the last ten years. The reason has been a controversy on the immigrant issue where Denmark has had a very strict immigrant policy while Sweden has been more open.
Old Danish-Swedish quarrel starts to unfreeze
Both sides built up stereotypes of each other. The Danes who before were seen as relaxed, kind and liberal became introvert and xenophobic in many Swedes eyes. I still have the picture before my eyes when the Swedish liberal politician Lars Leijonborg debated against Pia Kjersgard, leader for the anti-immigration Danish People's Party in 2002. Leijonborg criticised the election poster of the Danish People's Party. He was actually tearing the election poster apart during the TV-debate.
On the other hand for many Danes, the Swedish critique was unfair. Swedes were seen as self-proclaimed moral police who are too scared and political correct to discuss the backsides of immigration.
Even if this issue has not dominated the debate totally, it has been a kind of wet blanket on the Danish-Swedish relation. But now things have happened. Sweden has since the elections 2010 an anti-immigration party in the Riksdag (Sweden Democrats) and a couple of weeks ago, Denmark got a new Social Democratic government after 10 years of centre-right rule. So even if there was one Social Democrat and one Moderate (liberal-conservative) having a joint press conference today the tone was heartily.
In one way the roles have switched. There is now a new left-wing government in Denmark and a centre-right government in Sweden partly depending on the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats for their survival. But there is also another interesting similarity. The Danish Social Democrats won the elections much thanks to their strategy of status-quo in migrtion policy. Thus the stern Danish immigration law remains. In the same way the Moderates won the elections in 2006 by moving towards the centre and promising to keep some important Social Democratic systems like the law on protection of employment.
Maybe they understand each other pretty well in this sense.
Same interest in EU affairs
The main topic at the meeting was Greece and the debt crisis. This is a crisis where Sweden and Denmark actually have something in common. As the crisis deepens, there is a stronger risk that the real power within the EU will centre around the euro-zone countries. Sweden and Denmark are not members of the euro-zone and this sense they have the same interest.
"The whole EU should take responsibility for the euro crisis and should also have the possibility to take part in the decisions", said Helle Thorning-Schmidt clearly referring to the risk that only euro-zone countries steer the EU-project now.
Especially Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg has warned for the risk of an "inner circle" of euro-zone countries dominating the EU. Borg is probably happy to have found an ally in Denmark. The fact that the new Prime Minister is a Social Democrat is of less importance here.
Also Reinfeldt argued that the Nordic countries should participate in the decisions around the EU crisis policies.
"The banking system is not only tied to the euro-zone, it is something that applies for the whole Europe, Reinfeldt said.
Same issues in EU affairs
Another interesting example of a raproachment between Sweden and Denmark was that Thorning-Schmidt said that she wanted to restore the climate and energy issue in the European debate when Denmark takes over the rotating EU presidency after Christmas:
"We want to combine green issues with growth in Europe. It was interesting in our discussions today to see that we have several spots where Sweden and Denmark have solutions on some of the challenges that we face. It is a good basis for a Denmark and Sweden that work tightly together also in Europe".
Helle Thorning-Schmidt even hinted that there might be some kind of Danish-Swedish cooperation already before the EU-summit on Sunday:
"This is the beginning of a cooperation where we will meet often and where we stand before great challenges in Europe, to which we will contribute to solutions. Already on Sunday we have the great EU-summit, where we hope for a solution of the euro-crisis".
Whether a Danish-Swedish coooperation in EU-issues will become reality remains to be seen however. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is still new on her post and probably needs 1-2 years before we can see if she is ready to coordinate more with Sweden in EU affairs.