Fitting in: Swedish parties think anew on integration

David Landes looks at press reaction to the proposals for citizenship classes and an asylum policy which decides where refugees get to live.

Integration and asylum policy came into focus again this week on the editorial pages of Sweden’s major papers following two different proposals from two different political parties.

On Tuesday, Minister of Integration Nyamko Sabuni of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) presented her party’s plans to provide classes for immigrants wishing to become Swedish citizens. On the same day, Social Democratic Party Leader Mona Sahlin suggested that the state, rather than incoming refugees, ought to decide where in Sweden they ought to live.

Sahlin said her proposal was meant to ease pressure on communities currently flooded with refugees and to help place refugees in areas with ample housing and job opportunities. Sabuni hoped that citizenship classes, as well as a formal citizenship ceremony, would emphasize the idea of citizenship as a contract between the state and the individual, as well as ensure that naturalized Swedes have a full understanding of the basic values that inform Swedish society.

Åsa Peterson of Aftonbladet criticized Sabuni’s proposal harshly, calling it discriminatory. In particular, she takes issue with the Liberal Party’s notion of citizenship as a social contract which would take the form of an actual document.

Peterson first quotes from some additional language in the Liberal Party’s report on the issue which says that a social contract “should be made clear through a document where a new citizen can confirm that he or she understands how society functions…and that the new citizen intends to participate in society and obey the applicable laws and rules.”

She continues to outline her disapproval of the plan on the grounds that such a contract puts demands on naturalized Swedish citizens that don’t apply to citizens by birth.

“I wonder, when in life would citizens who are Swedish by birth be asked to certify that they ‘participate in society and obey the rules’? Isn’t that an obvious part of citizenship? When the Liberal Party says that new citizens should certify their honesty, are they suggesting that immigrants and refugees can’t be trusted in the same way as ‘regular people’?” she asks.

According to Peterson, forcing citizens to sign a piece of paper to demonstrate their understanding of democracy is discriminatory and points out “the other” as the problem, rather than getting Swedes to examine their own stance on the matter.

The Liberal Party’s suggestion also raises concerns for Henrik Bredberg from the Sydsvenskan newspaper, but less because of its specifics, and more because he feel it runs counter to the kind of policies a “liberal” party ought to espouse.

“What is wrong with the Liberal Party?” he asks, citing a number of recent suggestions from the party which Bredberg sees as putting more demands on immigrants.

“The impression one gets is that the Liberal Party employs a great deal of imagination and creativity when it comes to finding new ways to toughen the demands on immigrants,” he writes.

“More than demands ought to be demanded of a party that calls itself liberal.”

Sahlin’s proposal was also picked apart by Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) for being unrealistic on two accounts. First of all, the paper sees the proposal as part of a strategy by the Social Democrat party leader to wrest control of the issue from the current government with an eye toward the 2010 parliamentary elections. The idea is basically a non starter, according to SvD, because any government led by Sahlin would never get support for the policy from the Left Party or the Greens, which would presumably join the Social Democrats in a centre-left ruling coalition.

The paper reminds readers that the Green Party’s Peter Eriksson believes that an important aspect of asylum policy is to allow people to decide for themselves where they live, and that Kalle Larsson of the Left Party referred to the suggestion as “economic municipal arrest.”

“It’s hard to imagine an asylum policy that would satisfy Mona Sahlin and [popular Social Democratic mayor of Gothenburg] Göran Johansson as well as Peter Eriksson and [Left Party leader] Lars Ohly,” writes SvD.

The paper’s other problem with Sahlin’s proposal is that it’s unlikely to keep people from moving if they don’t like the community in which they are placed. In SvD’s estimation, the benefits currently allotted to refugees are so low that the threat of having those benefits reduced as a penalty for moving isn’t going to deter anyone. More than likely, refugees will move to areas with large concentrations of people from their home country, even if it means a slight reduction in benefits.

“There is a great risk that we will end up with a growing group of people who are not only living in crowded conditions and out of work, but are also more inclined to work under the table to get a little extra cash,” the paper writes.

The paper is slightly more optimistic about the current government’s plans to make it harder for newly arrived immigrants to be joined by their relatives, but still sees changes to employment policy as the key to integration.

“The best medicine against joblessness is a policy that makes it more attractive to create jobs and hire people. It is in the right to work, salary structure, and business regulations where the largest obstacles to integration can be found,” writes SvD.

Where the main newspapers stand

Dagens Nyheter, “independently liberal”, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, “independently liberal-conservative”,

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Göteborgs-Posten, “independently liberal”,

Gothenburg-based, owned by the Stampen media group.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), “independently liberal”, Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, “independently Social Democrat”, Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, “independently liberal”, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.