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Small states and open borders within the EU

Instability and unpredictable circumstances in recent years have forced EU-countries to rethink their wider sense of security. For instance, some member states have reintroduced internal border controls which has added to challenge of unity and openness of the EU. What does this development mean for European integration in general, and to the security of its small states in particular? How will the member states address challenges of free movement in the EU? These and similar questions were discussed at a workshop organized by the Centre for European Studies on December 6. Researchers from several European universities had been invited to present their own perspectives on the topic as well as engage in a panel discussion.
Workshop at the Eden auditorium

This workshop was the third in the ongoing project “Navigating the Storm: The Challenges for Small States in Europe", where the Centre for European Studies (CFE), together with nine other university partners, have been awarded a Jean Monnet Network grant from the European Union for the purpose of cooperating and broadening knowledge in the field of small state studies.

Welcoming words from Jörgen Hettne, director of the Centre for European Studies at Lund University and Pia Jönsson, director of Institute of International Affairs at University of Iceland opened the workshop in an almost full Eden auditorium. Then four researchers gave presentations on the theme of borders and the effects of limitations on human mobility in the EU. 

Maria Strömvik, Deputy Director of the Centre for European Studies at Lund University, gave a talk on the Öresund region, which recently displayed one of the most open borders in the world. Strömvik showed the bigger picture of the current re-bordering process in Öresund, by discussing the region over time with examples of the border as a battle field, as a source of income, as a divider of loyalties and as a control station. By 2000 the physical border between Sweden and Denmark was gone when the Öresund bridge was opened, but in 2015 the border controls were again introduced. According to Strömvik this is not just an inconvenience of commuters, but in fact a way of turning back history, challenging the very foundations of the Schengen area which also creates long-term financial, human and ideational costs for the EU.  

“Borders back in fashion – fighting at the wrong front?” was the name of the following presentation by Martin Klatt, Associate Professor, University of Southern Denmark. Klatt questioned the fact that borders are perceived as a key point of security, keeping everything bad out, when statistics from the last few years acctually show that very few criminals and terrorists are stopped at the border. Instead, it is international criminal networks and their sources of communication, as well as radicalization of migrants that have lived in Europe for a long time, that are the real causes of threats. According to Klatt, this calls for increased intelligence cooperation, not physical border controls. 

Bild på Martin Klatt
Martin Klatt from University of Southern Denmark

Professor Joakim Nergelius, Örebro University, gave a presentation on Swedish border controls as examples of national precautions. Nergelius questioned if the border controls really were a necessary reaction to the refugee crisis. He explained how the reinforcement of border controls, which is not in line with the Schengen rules, essentially was a result of premature risk analyses by the Swedish government. Nergelius also commented on the fact that no legal proceeding was introduced when the commuters asked for financial compensation by the Swedish Justitiekanslern, which is worrying for the future of Swedish legislation.

Bild på Joakim Nergelius
Joakim Nergelius from Örebro University

Niovi Vavoula, Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, also linked border controls to law enforcement. In her presentation Niovi highlighted how border controls are reinforced with a so-called “salami approach” that is gradually reforming the Schengen Borders Code. The result is a fragmented Schengen area with adjoining circles of border controls, which even has consequences for small states in the periphery of the EU such as Malta and Cyprus. The border controls are introduced in a quest to create a “security union”, but without a holistic approach in the rebodering process we may see collateral damage on free movement rights.

Bild på Niovi Vavoula
Niovi Vavoula from Queen Mary University of London

Đana Luša, Associate Professor at the University of Zagreb, talked about changing narratives and different political discourses on the migration crisis in the western Balkan countries. In the past years many migrants have crossed Croatia’s borders and moved on to other EU states without applying for asylum in Croatia. One of these changing narratives revolves around the conflict between sovereignty and universal rights, others include anti-immigrant rhetoric as well as refrences back to the tragedies from the wars of the 1990s. The fact that the Balkan countries essentially have been transit routes is a deciding factor in terms of the approach taken by Croatia and neighboring countries to the crisis. These states have not felt any responsibility for the cause or an ability to solve the crisis. They also sense the lack of a European solution, especially when other EU member states are rolling up the wire along their borders.

Bild på Đana Luša
Đana Luša from University of Zagreb

After the presentations a panel discussion followed, moderated by Rikard Bengtsson, Associate Professor at Lund University, with the above mentioned participating as well as Markus Idvall, director of the Centre for Oresund Region Studies at Lund University and Catharina Sørensen, Head of Research at Think Tank EUROPA. Bengtsson offered two discussing points to the panel, one regarding the relationship between borders and state security - why are the border controls reintroduced? - with a particular emphasis to the small state perspective, and one regarding the future of the Schengen system.

Panel discussion
Panel discussion

The participants discussed the reinforced border controls as symbolic rather than effective, a misunderstood attempt to create a sense of security among the public. Another problem that was highlighted during the discussion was how the border controls are causing cleavages within the EU, especially while the decisions about them remain a national competence. Furthermore, financial divergences between states equal differences in the states’ means of controlling their borders. This issue is especially concerning for small states that have recently gained independence. As for the future of the Schengen system, the participants stressed the fact that the European Commission has a key role to protect and supervise the system and to enforce procedures against member states who fail to respect these rules.

To summarize, the effects of limitations on human mobility in the EU from a small state perspective, was a particularly suitable theme for the Lund conference. Several participants discussed the specific local situation in the Öresund region, stressing that the reinforced border controls are contradictory to the idea of a borderless Europe. There is a certain irony in the fact that the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, a symbol of open borders within the EU, is now housing a Swedish border control.

These controls create problems at a local level, for example for commuters, but are furthermore challenging the very foundations of the European Union. Many of the participants stressed that borders not only create security, but also insecurity, and that European leaders should question the costs of reintroduced border controls and a divided Europe.

Did you miss the workshop? Watch the whole event below!

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