Friday

5th Mar 2021

Nordic politicians look to EU for border solutions

  • Border controls introduced on 4 January are still in place when crossing the Oresund between Denmark and Sweden. (Photo: Hunter Desportes)

Nordic politicians want to reinstate passport-free travel between their countries, but rather than proposing regional solutions, most argue that nothing can be done until the EU solves the migrant crisis.

Whether they voyaged to the Swedish fells, Norwegian fjords or Santa’s village in Finnish Lapland, Nordic people have enjoyed passport-free travel between their respective countries since the 1950s, decades before the EU's Schengen area was established.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • ”The costs have been huge”, said Henrik Dam Kristensen, a Danish Social Democrat and chairman of the Nordic Council. (Photo: Morten Brakestad, norden.org)

This changed on 4 January this year.

Sweden, struggling to accommodate a large number of asylum seekers, announced identity checks and border controls concentrating on the bridge to Denmark. It ended 60 years of free movement in the Nordic region.

Shortly afterwards, Denmark authorised checks on all of its borders and Norway followed suit.

“The costs have been huge,” said Henrik Dam Kristensen, a Danish Social Democrat MP.

He chairs the Nordic Council, an inter-parliamentary forum for MPs from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the Faroe, Greenland and Aaland islands.

On Tuesday, (19 April) the council convened in Oslo’s parliament for a special session on border controls and how it affects Nordic cooperation. The discussion was calm, but short on solutions. It was supposed to last for an hour but ended after only 35 minutes.

The crisis has revealed some cracks in Nordic cooperation.

“Solutions to the migration crisis are at the European and global level, not at the Nordic level,” said Finnish transport minister Anne Berner. She spoke on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers, another inter-governmental forum.

Searching the toolbox

Norwegian conservative MP Michael Tetzschner told journalists afterwards that the Nordic Passport Union – the 1950s agreement allowing free movement – could not function if the EU's system for handling asylum seekers was failing.

“Nordic problems won’t be solved until the situation on the EU’s outer borders has been normalised,” he said.

Many other politicians agreed that the controls were necessary until the EU’s outer borders were sealed.

Danish MP Dam Kristensen was hopeful that this would take place in the wake of EU’s recent deal with Turkey.

“We will see when the weather becomes better if it is a stable agreement. I hope it is, because the EU border is the most important protection we have," he told this website

Swedish moderate party MP Hans Wallmark had a different solution. Speaking before the assembly, he expressed support for a common Nordic border, a concept first proposed by Denmark’s prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen who suggested border checks should take place at Denmark’s frontier with Germany.

“We need to try anything in the toolbox”, Wallmark later told the EUobserver. “There has been a lack of creativity when it comes to proposing solutions.”

'Dysfunctional'

Wallmark criticised other politicians for urging more cooperation and integration without making any practical plans.

“It’s a good idea to share experiences, but we also need concrete proposals for what to do together,” he said.

“For instance, how can controls be implemented with the least possible burden on commuters.”

He referred to a recent proposal of Danish and Swedish justice ministers to carry out checks in Copenhagen rather than on both sides of the Oresund bridge, which links the Danish capital to the Swedish city of Malmo.

“It’s a concrete proposal. But it should have been discussed earlier, not four months after the checks were introduced,” he said.

“The Nordic countries could find solutions and set examples. Unfortunately, we have shown to be just as dysfunctional as the EU when it comes to dealing with large movements of people.”

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Sweden recently calculated that Oresund bridge controls cost at least €325,000 a day.

Critics also say the checks have damaged Sweden’s relations with Denmark.

“No doubt it had a negative effect, also on a political level,” said Danish politician Dam Kristensen.

In the past, Denmark’s minister of migration Inger Stojberg has accused Sweden of creating problems for itself with its “expansionist” migration policy.

Danish conservative MP Rasmus Jarlov recently called for additional checks on people coming from Sweden. He feared Sweden’s more restrictive policies would drive what he called illegal migrants back over the bridge.

This is despite the number of asylum applications in Sweden in the first quarter of this year dropping by 30 percent from the same period last year.

And the number of people travelling from Germany to Denmark without valid documents is about 100 a week, according to Wallmark.

Lawmakers continue to stand by border controls even as the number of refugees keeps falling.

Domino effect: Denmark follows Sweden on EU border checks

“May I see your ID?” - five little words on a train platform in Copenhagen on Monday mark the end of 60 years of Nordic free travel, as first Sweden, then Denmark impose new border checks amid the refugee crisis.

Denmark to stop North Sea oil drilling in 2050

Denmark's decision to put a deadline on all oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, as part of the country's plan to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, is expected to put pressure on the UK and Norway.

Feature

Paradox: Nordics' privileged youth feel miserable

Young people in the Nordic countries are among the most privileged in the world - yet many of them feel miserable. The Nordic Council is concerned and aims to find out why.

Denmark falls behind in gender-equality ranking

Iceland remains the most gender-equal country in the world, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. But one Nordic country sticks out from its neighbours with few female lawmakers, senior officials and managers.

Livestream

Live on EUobserver: UN and the Nordics discuss Covid-19

UN secretary general, António Guterres, discusses the Covid-19 crisis and the challenges the pandemic poses for the global community in a live meeting with Nordic Council party groups and prime ministers. Live on EUobserver today from 18:00 (CET).

Column

The lessons of Grøxit

It is often said that the British were the first to leave the European Union. This is, strictly speaking, not true: both Algeria and Greenland left the club long before Brexit came along.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us