The refugee crisis engaged the participants at the Nordic Council’s session in Copenhagen. Border controls introduced one year ago between Sweden and Denmark run contrary to the open Nordic labour market. A joint Nordic control at the border between Germany and Denmark is one suggested solution for easing the problems faced by Öresund commuters.
It was a politically sharper Nordic Council which gathered with a freshly designed Nordic swan in the background in the Danish parliament’s main chamber. The ambitions both for the Council of Ministers and the Nordic Council is to further politicise the Nordic cooperation.
At the same time, Henrik Dam Kristensen, who is the elected Nordic Council President for 2016, says he has no problem with the fact that Sweden and Denmark are keeping their border controls for a bit longer.
“The Nordic Council must know its place. It was an extreme situation in 2015, and the responsibility rests with the governments,” he says.
The Nordic Council gathered for a few days of political discussions with ambitions of being politically sharper and more relevant for Nordic citizens.
A survey by the Öresund Institute shows 80 percent of train commuters are considering looking for jobs in their home country, or move to their country of work in order to avoid the longer commutes, the overcrowding on the trains and the changing timetables.
“150,000 refugees arrived in Sweden in 2015 and we cannot rule out that this could happen again. The question is how we make the controls as easy for the commuters as possible. The trains now sometimes stop for ten minutes and sometimes not. Why can’t they carry out passport and ID checks at the same time?” asks Hans Hallmark, who head the Nordic Council’s conservative group.
The Council’s social democratic group, headed by Eva Sonidsson, has promoted the proposal to try to ease the pressure on Öresund by introducing a join Nordic control, or at least a joint Swedish-Danish control at the German border.
The most critical voice to how the Nordic Council has dealt with the issue belonged to the head of the socialist left green group, Steingrímur Sigfússon.
“At least we should have discussed the issue in a much more open way in the Nordic Council. The border controls do fly in the face of a lot of the work which the Nordic Council has been doing since it was established,” he says.
The refugee issue is not as hot a topic as it was during the last session in Oslo, since the number of asylum seekers in Sweden, Norway and Denmark is now 69 to 84 percent lower than for the same period in 2015.
As usual the Copenhagen session therefore hears a wide range of proposals which the 87 representatives from the five Nordic countries and the three autonomous areas want to bring to the attention of the governments. Among them is the centre group’s proposal for common Nordic citizenship (which would come in additions to national citizenships), a joint Nordic personal number and that the Faroe Islands should become a full member of the cooperation in both the Council of Ministers and the Nordic Council.
A demand for Finnish and Icelandic to become working languages within the Nordic cooperation also gathers a lot of support in a couple of the party groupings, and from all parties in the Finnish and Icelandic delegations.
When asked whether this would not become very expensive, with the need for a lot more interpretation, Steingrímur Sigfússon from the socialist left green group answers:
“It would not be so expensive, and we can afford it. You cannot expect the Finns and Icelanders to be the only ones responsible for keeping up the Nordic understanding of languages.”
Another proposal is to establish a joint Nordic office in Brussels in order to coordinate the Nordic countries’ policies within the EU.
“It would make it easier to stop EU proposals which do not serve the interests of Nordic cooperation if we could coordinate our actions at an earlier stage,” says Britt Lundberg from the centre group.