Sweden’s political elite have liked to boast that their country is a ‘humanitarian superpower’, a boast that has quite a bit to do with years of immigration policies that have made no sense to anyone with the slightest sense of how the world works.
Reality is now biting. Hard.
Sweden needs “respite” from the tens of thousands of refugees knocking at its door, the government has said, announcing tough measures to deter asylum seekers in a sharp reversal of its open-door policy towards people fleeing war and persecution. The country’s generous asylum regime would revert to the “EU minimum”, Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said on Tuesday, revealing that most refugees would receive only temporary residence permits from April.
Identity checks would be imposed on all modes of transport, and the right to bring families to Sweden would be severely restricted, he said. “We are adapting Swedish legislation temporarily so that more people choose to seek asylum in other countries … We need respite,” Löfven said, criticising the EU for failing to agree to spread refugees more evenly around the bloc.
That’s a bit much. Sweden’s policies have played a considerable part in attracting huge numbers of immigrants to Europe in recent years, migrants who have taken up much of the space (economic, physical and political) that could been reserved for those more usually defined as refugees. Should the rest of the EU now have to pitch in to help sort out the mess that recent Swedish governments (of center-left and center-right) have made in this area?
The reversal in refugee policy, which follows the imposition of border controls two weeks ago, marks a policy choice the ruling red-green coalition would have considered unthinkable until asylum seekers began arriving this autumn at a rate of 10,000 a week. Official estimates suggest up to 190,000 could come to the country of 10 million people this year.
The rise in refugee numbers has caused a frantic scramble to place roofs over their heads. At the weekend refugees arriving in the southern city of Malmö were forced to sleep on the streets because no beds could be found.
The changes announced on Tuesday were particularly difficult for the Social Democrats’ junior coalition partner, the Green party, seen as the most refugee-friendly of Sweden’s main political parties. The Greens’ deputy prime minister, Åsa Romson, broke into tears as she announced the measures.
“This is a terrible decision,” she said later, admitting that the proposals would make life even more precarious for refugees. But quitting the government would have made a bad situation even worse, she added.
And this is worth noting:
The leader of Sweden’s centre-right bloc, Anna Kinberg Batra, welcomed the measures but said they were not enough, and that asylum policy needed to be tightened even further. “Sweden needs to act now to bring order to an untenable situation,” she said.
This is not the first sign that Sweden’s center-right is finally (a phrase about stable doors comes to mind) beginning to come to its senses on this issue. The departure of Fredrik Reinfeldt, until last year both Sweden’s prime minister and the leader of the largest party within the center-right bloc, will have helped, but, so I suspect, has the emergence of the populist Sweden Democrats, a previously obscure and distinctly rough-edged party that owes its rapid rise to its willingness to dissent from the establishment enthusiasm for mass immigration and its unlovely henchman, multiculturalism. The swing to the SD cost the center-right the 2014 election. Could the öre now be beginning to drop?
Meanwhile, some polls have shown that the SD, a party with barely more than a handful of supporters a decade ago, is now Sweden’s largest. Maybe, maybe not, but even Sifo, probably Sweden’s best-known pollster is giving them 17.6 percent, a figure that, because of respondents’ unwillingness to admit to SD sympathies, may understate the ‘real’ total.
To the south, the dangerously irresponsible (or, as The Economist puts it, “indispensable”) Angela Merkel continues to dig a deeper hole both for her country and, if she is allowed to get away with it, the EU.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has vowed to stick to her open-door refugee policy, defying criticism at home and abroad which has intensified due to growing fears about a potential security risk after the Paris attacks. Conservative Merkel faces splits in her right-left coalition and pressure from EU states, including France, over her insistence that Germany can cope with up to 1 million migrants this year and that Europe must accept quotas to take them in.
But note that reference to France, a country, of course, still mourning the victims slaughtered by the Paris jihadis.
Europe is stretched to it limits and cannot take in any more migrants, according to the French Prime Minister. And in a veiled shot at German leader Angela Merkel, who said refugees were welcome in Europe, Manuel Valls said that it wasn’t France that ‘told them to come’.
Indeed it was not. Not on this occasion anyway.