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Editorial

Where to now, Nordic Region?

| By Berit Kvam

During the Nordic Council’s Session in Oslo on 19 April new border obstacles are being debated. Border controls for travellers from Denmark to Sweden could be introduced for those travelling in the opposite direction. The Nordic Labour Journal follows the debate, and takes a look at the basic challenge: What is being done to integrate refugees and immigrants into the labour market?

“The aim must be to normalise the situation and remove border controls when the refugee situation comes under control,” says Bente Stein Mathisen, chair of the welfare committee at the Nordic Council.

That could take time. Sweden has announced that border controls will stay in place for a bit longer than planned, even though work to get “the situation under control” is well under way.

“A solution for the future need for labour”. “A growth engine”. These are expressions used by Swedish municipalities to describe refugees who have arrived in Sweden. Carola Lemne, Director General at The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, says the same in this month’s Portrait. But there are no simple solutions, and the debate rages; should starting salaries be introduced for newly arrived people, and what would the consequences of that be?

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise wants starting salaries. The Swedish government does not. But with 180,000 asylum seekers out of whom 35,400 are unaccompanied minors, extraordinary measures are needed. That is why the Swedish Prime Minister has launched a national initiative : “Sweden Together”.

“We would not have been able to manage the situation without the help of voluntary organisations,” says the Governor of Stockholm in this month’s theme.

 Things are different in Denmark, where the government has agreed with the social partners on an integration package which according to the Danish Minister for Employment  means a comprehensive shift in the Danish integration drive:

 “We are addressing decades of failed measures,” says Jørn Neergaard Larsen.

 The most controversial point in the agreement is a new two year integration training programme, allowing refugees and immigrants to be employed as students in Danish workplaces on student salaries.

The number of refugees coming to the Nordic countries, and first and foremost to Sweden, means that what we have taken for granted since the passport union was introduced in the 1950s is now under threat. If you travel from Copenhagen to Malmø, which I recently did to take part in a Nordic conference on social entrepreneurship, you need to present your ID twice if you take the train from the airport. Before you board the train Danish security guards will check you ID, and as the train reaches the Swedish border you need to show it again. This is precisely the kind of obstacle to mobility and free movement between Nordic countries which Nordic governments have worked so hard for many years to get rid of.

 Finland's minister for cooperation Anne Berner, who was our February Portrait, is adamant the border controls must be removed. They are costly and a hindrance to trade and mobility. She will be debating this during the meeting of cooperation ministers on 19 April and later in the Nordic Council. The results, in the short term, are probably given.

But where to now, Nordic region? In the longer term?

Also read: 

Can Nordic refugee policies be coordinated?

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