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20th Sep 2018

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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.

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  • ”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.

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