‘A united Europe benefits both Britain and Sweden’

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström argues that a 'Remain' vote in the forthcoming British EU referendum would benefit both Britain and Sweden.

'A united Europe benefits both Britain and Sweden'
Margot Wallström calls for a united Europe. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The future of the EU is uncertain. This is apparent both from the referendum in the UK and the inability of EU member states to deal with the refugee crisis. But it would be wrong to talk about a divided Europe. Thanks to the EU, Europe is united. This has fostered peace, prosperity and solidarity between the 28 Member States. We must talk about a united Europe.

In times of crisis it is also important to remember the EU’s success stories. The EU is the world’s largest donor of aid, the world’s largest integrated economy and accounts for nearly a third of global trade. The EU’s consensus on sanctions against Russia, the EU’s role in the negotiations with Iran, and the EU’s commitment ahead of COP21 are good examples of successful joint action. Through cooperation at the EU level, we are taking joint responsibility for climate and environment issues. No single country in Europe can meet the challenges of a globalised world alone.

Having said that, we must have a dialogue among the member states about our common values. The refugee crisis has weakened the bonds uniting the EU. One effect of this is that it has become more difficult to assert universal values in other parts of the world. We must talk about these issues in the EU, even if we start out from different positions. It is up to us national politicians to take responsibility and to dare to stand up for the common decisions made in Brussels. We – not ‘they’ – are the EU.

Time and again, EU enlargement has proved the most important instrument for peace, growth and prosperity in Europe. The eastern enlargement of the EU in 2004 brought more than 500 million people into the EU’s internal market. This has tangible advantages in everyday life. It means that we citizens can live, travel, study, work, seek care and retire in any EU country we wish. The common market helps to create jobs and gives us an increased supply of goods and services at better prices. Right now, roaming charges are being phased out thanks to persevering efforts at EU level.

Free movement and common regulatory frameworks have enabled Swedish companies to grow beyond national borders. Over two thirds of Sweden’s trade today is with countries in the internal market. The economic benefits of the internal market are one of several strong reasons why we hope that the people of the UK will vote to stay in the EU. It is to the UK’s and the EU’s advantage alike. Moreover, we want to carry on working with the UK to make the EU a stronger foreign policy actor.

One important element is to strengthen the EU’s social dimension. With almost 25 million people in the EU unemployed, workers’ rights are under severe pressure. Now that Europe’s economies are slowly recovering from the crisis years, social cohesion and welfare must also be strengthened. We are pleased that the Commission has put this issue on the agenda and has asserted the principle of equal pay for equal work. Sweden’s leading role in these issues is confirmed by the appointment of our former Minister for Finance, Allan Larsson, as President Juncker’s Special Adviser for the European Pillar of Social Rights.

In a social Europe, growth and social progress are mutually reinforcing. Fair conditions and high employment rates are key to sustainable economic development in Europe. If women participated in the labour market to the same extent as men, the EU’s GDP could increase by 12 per cent by 2030. The social summit planned in Sweden in 2017 will provide vital impetus in driving these issues forward.

The development of Swedish welfare is intimately bound up with European integration. On our own, Sweden cannot solve the challenges of our time. Sweden will take a central and proactive part, together with our EU partners, in tackling the challenges we face. We need a strong, unified and cohesive Union.

This is a translation of an article written by Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, which was first published by Göteborgs Posten.

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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.