Sweden votes for three-year border controls

Free-movement principle in Europe develops another serious crack

Europe's free-movement principle has developed a further serious crack after Sweden approved plans yesterday to introduce border checks in the new year – including on the landmark Oresund Bridge.

The 11km structure is famous thanks to The Bridge crime series but, since opening in 2000, has become a steel-and-concrete embodiment of the Schengen ideal of passport-free travel.

Sweden's Riksdag parliament voted for the new controls as it struggles to cope with an influx of almost 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers this year – many of whom use the bridge that links the Swedish city of Malmo to Copenhagen in Denmark.


But the measure designed to throttle the inflow of migrants will hit the thousands of commuters who live in Sweden but work in Denmark and cross the Oresund bridge daily.


From January 4th the new regime will see all passengers on trains, buses and ferries into Sweden subjected to border checks.

Some 175 Swedish MPs, mostly from the Social-Democrat Green government, voted in favour of the controversial measure, along with support of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD).


Some 39 MPs voted against and 117 MPs from across the political spectrum abstained, many of whom called for six-month controls instead of the government’s three-year plan.

MPs in the ruling Green Party argued that the measure undermines Sweden's international obligations to accept asylum seekers but, in the end, only one Green MP voted against the Bill.

Sweden's justice minister, Morgan Johansson, said the vote was no cause for celebration, but proof of Europe's failure to share the refugee burden.

“If you had asked me three months ago if we would have to do something like this I would never have believed it myself,” Mr Johansson told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

“This is not something you want to do, but sometimes . . . you have to something if the alternative is worse.”

Since tightening up asylum procedures about 5,000 people registered for asylum in Sweden in the first week of December, half the weekly total in October.

The new border controls have irritated neighbouring Denmark and annoyed transport companies. Their employees will be obliged under the new law to carry out ID checks, something they fear will cause travel chaos.

"Our members . . . have neither the training, nor the authority or competence to execute these kinds of controls," said Johan Ingelskog, of the Kommunal trade union to Sweden's TT news agency.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin