Clampdowns on migration, terrorism challenge idea of 'borderless' Europe

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.

See Full Article

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 boundaries 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 jewelry 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 (5-mile) Oresund bridge-and-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. Travelers 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."

Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, George Jahn in Vienna and Collen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Trump: U.S. has been on 'wrong side' of NAFTA for many years

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    HARRISBURG, Pa. — President Donald Trump has again raised the spectre of the U.S. pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying America has been on the “wrong side” of the trade pact for “many, many years. Source
  • Trump: U.S. has been on 'wrong side' of NAFTA for 'many, many' years

    World News CTV News
    HARRISBURG, Pa. -- U.S. President Donald Trump has again raised the spectre of the U.S. pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying America has been on the "wrong side" of the trade pact for "many, many years. Source
  • Texas cop faked his own death, fled into Mexico

    World News Toronto Sun
    AUSTIN, Texas — Authorities in Texas say a police officer who notified his wife that he planned to kill himself actually faked his own death and fled to Mexico. An arrest affidavit revealed Friday that 29-year-old Austin officer Coleman Martin earlier in the week texted his wife a photo of a note indicating he meant to drown himself in a lake near the border with Mexico. Source
  • Shortlist for new Canadian astronauts includes two women with ties to Calgary

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Space has long captured the interest of Calgary-born Jenni Sidey. When she was a little girl, she recalls looking up to Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut. "I remember my mum took me to go see her speak when I was younger, so I always had this kind of hero in the back of my head," Sidey said in an interview. Source
  • Canada's defence minister apologizes for embellishing role in Afghan operation

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    For embellishing his role in an iconic 2006 Afghanistan offensive, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has apologized to the public and the troops he leads. His mea culpa for saying “I was the architect of Operation Medusa” came across as sincere. Source
  • Protect yourself from the taxman

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Any time a drab recycled paper envelope bearing the Canada Revenue Agency logo arrives in the mail, how many can truly say their heart doesn’t skip a beat before opening it up to discover the message? Is it a Notice of Audit? A re-assessment? A refusal to a deduction made on your last tax return? Or — good news — acceptance of your return with a statement showing there is no tax owing. Source
  • Without Trump, White House Correspondents' dinner to focus on journalism

    World News CBC News
    There's a thinner presence of celebrities and other famous faces at this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Saturday evening's red carpet featured boldface names largely from the world of journalism and government. Among the guests are longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Source
  • Without Trump, White House Correspondents' dinner shifts focus to press freedom

    World News CBC News
    There's a thinner presence of celebrities and other famous faces at this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Saturday evening's red carpet featured boldface names largely from the world of journalism and government. Among the guests are longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Source
  • Keys to happier life revealed

    World News Toronto Sun
    VANCOUVER — Want to live longer, enjoy life more and actually find that elusive happiness? Among the dozens of big ideas shared this week at the international TED conference — from a robot that could outperform students on college exams to an ultraviolet light that could kill superbugs — were some simpler, almost obvious, life improvements we should all prioritize to live better lives. Source
  • Madeleine McCann's parents hopeful missing girl still 'out there'

    World News Toronto Sun
    LONDON — The parents of Madeleine McCann, the 3-year-old British girl who vanished during a family vacation to Portugal in 2007, say they are still hopeful they will one day be reunited with their daughter as they mark the 10th anniversary of her disappearance. Source