Data sharing between countries improves the quality of statistics

Myrte ter Horst

On 25 February this year, the five national statistical offices of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland, celebrated the release of their report: “Nordic cross-border statistics”. This report is unique as it provides the first systematic overview of cross-border commuting life in the whole Nordic Region. Yet, putting together these statistics was challenging due to legal complications that arise when data is shared internationally. The authors were able to overcome these challenges though and deliver a successful account of the cross-border statistics in the region. I believe that this project set an inspiring example for EU Member States and will incentivise them to follow in their Nordic counterparts’ footsteps. In this opinion piece I will lay out my rationale.

Let’s start with discussing the importance of cross-border statistics. The official national statistics do not take movement across borders into account, which leaves us with an incomplete picture especially in regions close to the border. For example, people who work in Norway but live on the other side of the border in Sweden are not counted in the Swedish national administrative statistics. This might lead to an overestimated unemployment rate, as people who work in neighbouring countries are not included 1 . This lack of information can lead policy makers to misdirect their efforts. Policy makers need information on cross-border movement to know, for example, where to create job opportunities, or improve infrastructure. Sharing data between the countries fills this gap of information, makes for more accurate statistics, and supports policy-makers with the tools to make informed decisions.

The biggest challenges of collecting cross-border statistics are due to differences between national legislations. New data agreements that fit all five countries had to be set up. In total, approximately 50 agreements were created concerning topics such as confidentiality, secure data transfer, data storage, data deletion, and data ownership. In setting up these data sharing agreements, national and European legislation was combined.

Over the past few years, the European Commission has launched several cross-borders statistics projects in collaboration with national and regional organisations. Some of them are very promising. For example, Statistics Netherlands joined forces with neighbouring countries Belgium and Germany to compile cross-border statistics 2 . Similar initiatives are carried out in Luxembourg and at the German-Swiss border. Their practices are shared in the European Cross Border Monitoring Network 3 , an initiative designed specifically for fostering the exchange of data for cross-border monitoring, and exchange good practices. 

The Nordic example and the European Cross Border Monitoring Network demonstrate that several initiatives for sharing data internationally exist, and they are promising avenues for enriching national statistics. Policy makers on national and European level can stimulate data producers to share their data by providing regulations and funding to facilitate data sharing between EU member states. Only with data sharing, cross-border statistics can be produced. Not depicting countries as islands will help to unite the EU.  

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