Mi­grant cri­sis re­turns Europe’s bor­ders

Lesotho Times - - International -

STOCK­HOLM — Since it opened in 2000, the Ore­sund bridge be­tween Swe­den and Den­mark has been a tow­er­ing sym­bol of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion and has­sle-free travel across bor­ders that peo­ple didn’t even no­tice were there.

On Mon­day new travel re­stric­tions im­posed by Swe­den to stem a record flow of mi­grants are trans­form­ing the bridge into a strik­ing ex­am­ple of how na­tional bound­aries are re-emerg­ing. A year of clam­p­downs on mi­gra­tion and ter­ror­ism has all but killed the idea of a bor­der­less Europe where you could drive or train-hop from Spain in the south to Nor­way in the north with­out ever hav­ing to show your pass­port.

“We’re turn­ing back the clock,” said An­dreas On­ner­fors, who lives in Lund, on the Swedish side of the bridge. An as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in in­tel­lec­tual his­tory, he said he’s ben­e­fited from the free flow of peo­ple and ideas across the bridge — he’s stud­ied on both sides and taught stu­dents from both Swe­den and Den­mark.

“We’re go­ing back to a time when the bridge didn’t ex­ist,” he said, re­fer­ring to the ID check­points be­ing set up Mon­day on the Dan­ish side for train pas­sen­gers wish­ing to cross over to Swe­den.

The move is meant to stop un­doc­u­mented mi­grants from reach­ing Swe­den, which abruptly re­versed its open-door pol­icy af­ter re­ceiv­ing more than 160,000 asy­lum-seek­ers last year, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It fol­lows the rein­tro­duc­tion of bor­der checks in Ger­many, Aus­tria, France, Bel­gium and other coun­tries in what’s sup­posed to be a pass­port-free travel zone span­ning 26 na­tions.

The moves are sup­pos­edly tem­po­rary, but are likely to be ex­tended if Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis con­tin­ues in 2016.

“It’s ba­si­cally ev­ery coun­try for it­self now,” said Mark Rhi­nard, an ex­pert on the Euro­pean Union at the Swedish In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Affairs.

Cit­ing ex­cep­tional na­tional cir­cum­stances re­lated to se­cu­rity, ter­ror­ism and pub­lic or­der, sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries have sus­pended EU rules that re­quired them to keep their bor­ders open to each other.

It’s a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment that strikes at the very heart of the EU pro­ject — the free move­ment of goods and peo­ple across bor­ders.

The Bruegel think tank in Brus­sels says that in 2014 there were al­most 1.7 mil­lion cross-bor­der com­muters in the pass­port-free zone known as the Schen­gen Area, af­ter the Lux­em­bourg town where it was cre­ated in 1985. Abol­ish­ing it would af­fect their daily lives, but the con­se­quences for Europe would go deeper, given the “vis­i­ble and pow­er­ful sym­bol of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion that Schen­gen rep­re­sents,” Bruegel re­searchers Nuria Boot and Gun­tram Wolff wrote in De­cem­ber

Whether the tem­po­rary rein­tro­duc­tion of bor­ders also means re­build­ing men­tal bound- aries be­tween EU cit­i­zens re­mains to be seen. But the mi­grant cri­sis is be­com­ing an even big­ger chal­lenge to Euro­pean unity than the cracks emerg­ing in re­cent years over the bloc’s com­mon cur­rency, the euro.

EU na­tions demon­strated starkly dif­fer­ent views on how to deal with the 1 mil­lion mi­grants that crossed the Mediter­ranean in 2015. Ger­many and Swe­den, un­til re­cently, said refugees were wel­come, while Hun­gary built a fence to keep them out. The Dan­ish govern­ment took a se­ries of mea­sures to dis­cour­age mi­grants from go­ing there, in­clud­ing a pro­posal to seize their jew­ellery to cover their ex­penses in Den­mark.

Com­mon rules re­quir­ing refugees to seek shel­ter in the first EU coun­try they en­ter col­lapsed, as Greece and Italy were over­whelmed by sea ar­rivals and coun­tries fur­ther north just waved the mi­grants through to their in­tended desti­na­tion, of­ten Ger­many or the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries.

Mean­while the EU’S ef­forts to spread refugees more evenly across the bloc met stiff re­sis­tance from mem­ber states. By Novem­ber only about 150 of 160,000 refugees had been re­lo­cated from Greece and Italy un­der an EU plan.

The cri­sis un­der­lines struc­tural flaws in the EU, show­ing how it has im­ple­mented com­mon rules that it just can’t en­force once the ex­ter­nal pres­sures be­come too great, said Karl Laller­st­edt, co-founder of Black Mar­ket Watch, a Switzer­land-based non-profit group fo­cus­ing on cross-bor­der smug­gling.

“It’s not a strong fed­eral state that can over­rule its mem­bers,” he said. “At the same time in­di­vid­ual states have obli­ga­tions to the EU. So you’re in this sort of half-way house.”

Any hope of a quick re­turn to a bor­der­less Europe was crushed by the deadly Paris at­tacks in Novem­ber, af­ter which France de­clared a state of emer­gency and beefed up bor­der con­trols with neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

How­ever, if bot­tle­necks build up at the bor­ders, EU cit­i­zens and com­pa­nies mov­ing goods in trucks will even­tu­ally get fed up, said Rhi­nard, of the Swedish In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Affairs.

“As soon as it starts to bite eco­nom­i­cally, peo­ple are go­ing to start to ask: ‘Is this the right so­lu­tion to the prob­lem?’“Rhi­nard said.

That ques­tion is al­ready be­ing asked by com­pa­nies and com­muters op­posed to new ID checks at the 8-kilo­me­tre Ore­sund bridge­and-tun­nel, known to Euro­pean TV view­ers as the fo­cal point of the Swedish-dan­ish crime se­ries “The Bridge.”

Train net­works on ei­ther side have been in­te­grated to al­low thou­sands of com­muters to cross the bridge daily, es­sen­tially in­cor­po­rat­ing the south­ern Swedish cities of Malmo and Lund into sub­ur­ban Copen­hagen.

But the new ID checks mean there will be no more di­rect rail­way ser­vice from Copen­hagen’s main sta­tion to Swe­den. Trav­ellers head­ing to Malmo will have to switch trains at Copen­hagen Air­port af­ter go­ing through the check­points there, adding an es­ti­mated half an hour to the 40-minute com­mute.

To avoid the has­sle, Swe­den’s na­tional rail­way com­pany SJ can­celled ser­vice to Den­mark al­to­gether, leav­ing only Dan­ish and re­gional Swedish oper­a­tors with ser­vice across the bridge.

“This is what hap­pens when na­tional states put down their foot down and say se­cu­rity is most im­por­tant,” said On­ner­fors. “It col­lides with the free­dom (of move­ment) they’ve been talk­ing about for 20 years, which was the rea­son we joined the EU to be­gin with.” — AP

New travel re­stric­tions were ex­pected to be im­posed by Swe­den on Mon­day to stem a record flow of mi­grants.

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