The decision of Sweden’s government to impose identity controls at the Öresund Bridge linking the country with Denmark - featured in the famous television drama - underlines the crisis of the European Union. The increased antagonism between the two Nordic neighbours that this represents is a drama in itself and a stark indication of how the barriers are literally going up between different EU states.
Sweden’s biggest daily paper, the Social Democratic ‘Aftonbladet’, commented in December that “the refugee crisis has revealed the abysmal contradictions" within the EU and concluded: "Never has Europe been so threatened".
The new Swedish laws on refugees are meant to stop as many as possible from entering the country. At Copenhagen’s Kastrup station, on the route to Malmö in Sweden, 150 guards from the company Securitas, are checking and photographing the ID cards of every individual. Those without ID are blocked from entering Sweden. Last year, four out of five refugees entering Sweden lacked passports or identity cards. Of 25,000 children from Afghanistan, only 18 had ID. Sweden is presently pushing for a deal with the Afghan government for refugees to be sent back.
For decades, the bridge has had one of the most open border crossings in the world. 15,000 people travel every day between their homes in Copenhagen and their work in Malmö or vice versa. With the new ID checks, their journey time can become up to an hour longer.
For a long time, per population, Sweden was receiving the highest number of refugees in Europe, while Denmark was implementing some of the most restrictive regulations. Now their roles have reversed! The right-wing Danish government is accusing the Swedish Social Democratic-Green government of abolishing the right to asylum. At the same time, the Danish government has also immediately implemented similar controls at its border with Germany.
Both countries are using the language of a state of emergency to defend their decisions; they refer to “state security” and “law and order” as reasons for the drastic measures. The Swedish government even considered an emergency closing of the bridge for a period.
In Sweden, the new rules were prepared by a propaganda campaign from politicians, starting with the racist Sweden Democrats, followed by the Conservatives and Social Democrats. They used the phrase “Sweden is close to system collapse” without giving any details: what system and where? The workers and volunteers involved in receiving and caring for refugees, though under great pressure, did not make any such comments.
At the same time, banks and companies are reporting record profits and even the state finances have improved a lot, according to the government. However, no measures are being taken to increase the building of the necessary homes, allocate the necessary resources to schools, health care etc. Instead, the government is threatening more cuts and agreements with the traditional right-wing parties.
The crisis of the European Union
The refugee crisis has developed into the most urgent crisis of the European Union. Summit after summit has ended in sharp clashes or in agreements that are never implemented.
The EU “must stem the flow of migrants or risk the same fate as the Roman Empire!". This dire warning of the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, sums up the attitude of some leading politicians. On 1 January, the Dutch government took over the EU’s rotating presidency.
One million refugees coming into Europe has broken down the cohesion between the rulers of this “great and democratic union", with its 508 million inhabitants. The Schengen agreement, which came into force 20 years ago to achieve a Europe without borders, has been undermined. Schengen is “one the pillars of the construction of Europe", said European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker in late November, adding that "a single currency does not exist if Schengen fails."
Two or three months before, the EU leaders and politicians around Europe protested when Hungary built barbed wire fences on the border with Serbia, which is also the EU’s external border. Hungary also built a similar wall against an EU country - Croatia. Since then, country after country has followed suit and tried to close their borders.
Germany will stop and examine all vehicles coming from Austria, one of the least guarded borders until this summer. Austria is in turn reinforcing the border to Slovenia. Macedonia, which is not in the EU, has erected a wall against Greece and so on. In debates, the CSU in Bavaria has threatened to close its the state’s borders with other countries.
The latest restrictions at the Öresund bridge, with the immediate additional measures of the Danish government, mean that the Swedish Government’s assertion, not so long ago, that worse rules for refugees would force the rest of the EU to receive more refugees, comes back to shame them. Now Norway is also taking pride in having “one of the toughest positions on immigrants in Europe”.
The EU’s attempt to take special measures to redistribute 160,000 of the refugees who arrived in Europe via Greece and Italy has ended in a total fiasco, with, until now, only just over a hundred dispersed. The European Commission has in parallel decided to sue Greece, Croatia and Italy because these countries have not identified the refugees properly, such as taking fingerprints within 72 hours. The reason, apart from the sheer scale of the number of refugees, is that the Dublin Convention gives countries such as Sweden the right to send refugees back to the countries that first registered them.
New border police plus Erdogan
The EU Commission wants a new border police force – a Border and Coast Guard - which will replace the current Frontex. Unlike Frontex, the new force could be deployed in all Schengen countries, as well as in Norway (which is not in the EU) and in border countries like Serbia and Macedonia, to close the borders. The new force is supposed to be allowed the right to take action without even the different governments being informed.
At the same time, the EU has courted Turkish President Erdogan, who has been offered three billion euros to stop refugees from going further i.e. northwards. The EU has, during talks with Erdogan, deliberately turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s escalation of armed attacks and violence against the Kurds and the left. The only goal has been to get the two million refugees from the war in Syria staying in Turkey.
Politically, a number of traditional right-wing parties and even social democratic parties have moved sharply rightward. What the extreme right have called for is now discussed by established parties, which also takes practical steps in this direction. In the French election campaign the former president Sarkozy copied some of the language of the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen. In Slovakia, the ruling Social Democratic Party argues that all Muslims should leave the country.
Poland’s new government is moving in the direction of Orbán’s in Hungary. In both cases, the courts, administrative authorities and the media have been purged of critics of the government. Orbán, after attacks on Jews and Roma, has recently become a mouthpiece for Islamophobia. If Poland follows in the same direction, it is even more serious because Poland is the EU’s sixth largest country, both in terms of population and economically. The governments of the Czech Republic and Slovakia are on the same track. This block can de facto ignore EU decisions.
EU’s worst year – to be continued
2015 was the worst year of policies carried out by the European Union for a long time. Its primary role has been in making things easier for banks and multinationals, coordinating budget cuts, attacks on trade union rights and, lately, as a driving force for increased military spending. However, recent difficulties, such as the euro crisis, show how little the EU acts as a real union. Capitalism’s way of functioning means that its basis in the nation state, and the tensions this creates, remain.
At the same time, there are new political movements to the left and struggles of workers and youth. These are necessary to fight against EU policies and against the threat of the racist right-wing parties. Last autumn also showed mass solidarity of workers and ordinary people in many countries. In Sweden and Denmark, new protests are planned to demand the right to asylum. The alternative to the EU is not nationalism, but workers’ unity across borders.