Last September, the government of Hungary was widely condemned as “un-European” for attempting to defend the European Union’s external border against intruders from other continents. This winter, Sweden, which, along with Germany, had been causing the mass migration that Hungary had attempted to defend the European Union against, has imposed border controls for the first time in half a century with … Denmark.
From The Guardian:
In a move to stem the flow of refugees, valid photo ID will be required for people travelling from Denmark for first time since 1950s
David Crouch in Copenhagen
Sweden is set to drastically reduce the flow of refugees into the country by imposing strict identity checks on all travellers from Denmark, as Scandinavian countries compete with each other to shed their reputations as havens for asylum seekers.
For the first time since the 50s, from midnight on Sunday travellers by train, bus or boat will need to present a valid photo ID, such as a passport, to enter Sweden from its southern neighbour, with penalties for travel operators who fail to impose checks. Passengers who fail to present a satisfactory document will be turned back.
“The government now considers that the current situation, with a large number of people entering the country in a relatively short time, poses a serious threat to public order and national security,” the government said in a statement accompanying legislation enabling the border controls to take place.
The move marks a turning point for the Swedish ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, which earlier presented itself as a beacon to people fleeing conflict and terror in Asia and the Middle East.
“My Europe takes in people fleeing from war, my Europe does not build walls,” Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven told crowds in Stockholm on 6 September. But three months and about 80,000 asylum seekers later, the migration minister told parliament: “The system cannot cope.”
Almost 163,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest in Europe as a proportion of the population. In the autumn, applications were running at 10,000 weekly. But Stockholm has made clear it wants to slash the flow to around 1,000 a week in 2016.
Temporary border controls were first revealed in November, but the current legislation is valid for three years. Announcing the U-turn in refugee policy, the deputy prime minister burst into tears.
This fiasco brings to mind that modern European leaders and intellectuals seem logically woozy on the fundamental tradeoff issue of geographical liberty and security, which is that you have to put border controls somewhere. You can make the secure area bigger or smaller, but in an era of easy travel and smartphones, you have to make a choice to put it somewhere. Prime Minister Orban of Hungary suggested that the logical place was the external border of the E.U. in order to maintain freedom of movement within the E.U., but he was shouted down as some kind of neo-Nazi who was betraying Europe by trying to keep a million Muslim mob of non-Europeans out.
But consider personal safety. I have good locks on the doors of my house, so I don’t need to lock the doors of my individual rooms, the way I would have if I couldn’t secure my front door, or if members of my family found it fashionable to invite drifters in to spend the night with us.
If I lived in a gated community, I wouldn’t need to lock my front door at all, but I don’t, so I do.
In other words, I can have liberty of movement at some geographic scales, as long as I have security at some other level.
Translating that into European geopolitics, the European Union has long sponsored ease of movement between member states such as Sweden and Denmark. In fact, Swedes and Danes have been welcome to visit each other’s countries without border checks for three score years, long before the E.U. But now Scandinavians are finding out why they can’t have nice things anymore: lack of continental perimeter defense.
The Schengen agreement has been widely seen as making daily life more convenient in the E.U. just like not having to lock and unlock each internal door in your family home is more convenient than living in a flophouse where you can’t trust the other tenants to not riffle through your stuff when it’s unlocked.
But this amenity implies an external security perimeter around the European Union, as Hungary attempted to improvise last September, to rancorous condemnations from Sweden and Germany for being “un-European.” But now, because Sweden and Germany intentionally subverted the E.U.’s external border, Swedes must give up their luxury of not having border controls with Denmark. That’s why Swedes can’t have anymore the nice thing of no waiting in line when going to Denmark.
The logic of this inevitable tradeoff doesn’t seem like it ought to be terribly confusing, but for a few crazed weeks in September, few powerful people in Europe besides the Hungarian Prime Minister seem to grasp it.