Wolfram Hilz, Daniele Saracino, Introduction in:

Wolfram Hilz, Daniele Saracino (Ed.)

Nordic Perspectives on the European Asylum System, page 7 - 10

The cases of Sweden and Finland

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-3998-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6738-3, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828867383-7

Series: Bonner Studien zum globalen Wandel, vol. 23

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
7 1 Introduction Wolfram Hilz / Daniele Saracino As small Member States of the European Union with similar economic and political impact, the Nordic countries are generally considered to have common perspectives and interests regarding European integration. A differentiated look reveals, though, that fundamental differences in the respective agendas towards certain policy fields exist – most noticeably regarding the common European asylum policy. The humanitarian crisis emerging in the southern parts of Europe during the past years, caused by the increasing number of refugees seeking protection within European borders, has revealed a major divergence of interests particularly between two Nordic countries: Sweden and Finland. While the former has opened its borders for over 160.000 asylum seekers in the year 20151, the latter in the same time period has only granted a little over 30.0002 access to asylum application. The same pattern can be found when looking at the essential difference in the absolute numbers of positive asylum decisions from Syrian nationals, where the raging civil war turned into one of the most critical and pressing conflicts for Europe in recent times. Compared to the over 18.000 positive decisions made at first instance in Sweden in 20153, the corresponding number in Finland was 1954, only accounting for a fraction of its Western neighbours’. As a result, Sweden has within a few years turned into one of the continent’s top destinations for asylum seekers, whereas Finland has characterized itself as one of Europe’s most restrictive asylum and migration management regimes and has obtained a rather poor reputation as a recipient 1 See Swedish Migration Agency: Applications for asylum received 2015, 01 January 2016, available at: https://www.migrationsverket.se/download/18.7c00d8e614310 1d166d1aab/1485556214938/Inkomna+ans%C3%B6kningar+om+asyl+2015+ Applications+for+asylum+received+2015.pdf (5 April 2017). 2 See Finnish Immigration Service: Asylum applicants: 01 January – 31 December 2015, available at: http://www.migri.fi/download/65010_EN_tp-hakijat_2015.pdf ?c5036546da75d488 (5 April 2017). 3 See Swedish Migration Agency: Asylum decisions: Swedish Migration Board 2015, 01 January 2016, available at: https://www.migrationsverket.se/download/18.7c00d 8e6143101d166d1aad/1485556214929/Avgjorda+asyl%C3%A4renden+2015+Asyl um+desicions+2015.pdf (5 April 2017). 4 See Finnish Immigration Service: Decision on asylum: 01 January – 31 December 2015, available at: http://www.migri.fi/download/65014_EN_tp-paatokset_2015. pdf ?6d836647da75d488 (5 April 2017). 8 country due to strict legal practices and xenophobic sentiments among the native population. Why have these neighbouring countries, characterized by similar economic and social welfare systems, chosen such different approaches in facing the challenges arising from the refugee crisis and in implementing asylum policies? Whereas the majority of the Finnish parties consider a tighter border control essential in order to curb irregular movements and simultaneously oppose mandatory EU quotas, the Swedish government has on various occasions called for more attention to the humanitarian aspect of the on-going situation and stressed the importance of finding a solidary and fair allocation of refugees entering European territory. Even though a significant increase of right-wing populist influence can be observed in both countries, Swedish decision-makers have to a larger extent adopted a more liberal attitude and more generous agenda than their Finnish counterparts – a fact that is also reflected in the considerable differences in government’s spending on asylum seekers. Finally, the question whether Finland can maintain its traditional restrictive course despite the continuously strong refugee influx, on the one hand, and Sweden its liberal stance with regard to growing domestic pressure, on the other hand, remains a critical issue for the future policy development of both countries. These openly stated differences, both in terms of actual numbers and implemented national policy guidelines, make an interesting case for the different political forces emerging within the European Union in shaping the common asylum policy. Due to the increasing internal and external pressure on the EU in managing the refugee crisis, this issue has not only gained significant importance and emphasis on a national level, but also from a European point of view. The aim of this volume is to differentiate the Nordic perspectives on shaping EU asylum policies by focusing on the two contrasting country case studies of Sweden and Finland. The contributions reflect expert views in the respective fields of Swedish, Finnish and EU asylum policy and discuss the matters at hand. For both countries, questions for the interests of key actors dominating the national debates on asylum policy are prevalent. The respective agendas of both Sweden and Finland, their different approaches and problems inside their respective societies as well as the national strategies at the European level in shaping the Common European Asylum System in light of the refugee crisis are in the focus of the contributions. In the first chapter of this volume, Wolfram Hilz (University of Bonn) provides a general introduction to the international and EU framework for national and community based action when faced with challenges by refuge and asylum. 9 Henna Virkkunen (MEP) gives an inside view on how Brussels tries to cope with the refugee crisis. Daniele Saracino (University of Bonn) examines “solidarity” as the key term in the disputes within the EU in dealing with the common asylum policy. Against the background of the constant calls for solidarity among the Member States during the refugee crisis, he provides a thorough analysis of the solidarity principle and its meaning, scope and impact in the European Union in general and the common European asylum policy specifically. Bernd Parusel (Swedish Migration Agency) critically evaluates the transition in Sweden’s asylum policy before and after the peak of the refugee crisis in autumn of 2015. He discloses Sweden’s radical shift from a safe haven for asylum seekers to policies of rejection of refugees and analyses the processes behind it and their European dimension. Peo Hansen (Linköping University) takes a look at European migration policy in times of economic crisis. He argues that in countries like Sweden and Germany, who have taken in many asylum seekers, increased government spending in order to cope with the situation, has in fact had a positive impact on the respective economies. Camilla Nordberg (University of Helsinki) analyzes how the dismantling of the Finnish welfare state and the consequences of anti-immigrant mobilization for the society impact the political dealings regarding the refugee crisis. She shows how the surge of right-wing policies within the Finnish government has shaped immigration policies especially after the autumn of 2015 and contextualizes these trajectories with the historic Finnish approach towards immigration. From a practitioner’s point of view, Janne Leskinen (Red Cross Finland) highlights the positive mobilizing effects of the Finnish civil society as a consequence of grown refugee numbers. He draws a very precise picture of the Finnish Red Cross’s efforts in coping with the unprecedented influx of refugees to Finland and the interplay with other civil society actors, and the State. The volume is the result of a conference that took place in June 2016 at the University of Bonn, organized by Wolfram Hilz and Daniele Saracino in close cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Nordic Office Riga) and the Finnish Institute in Germany (Berlin Office). A special thanks goes to Christiane Siemer who was instrumental in editing these proceedings.

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Abstract

The Nordic EU Member States are generally considered to have common perspectives and interests regarding European integration. A differentiated look reveals, though, that fundamental differences in the respective agendas towards certain policy fields exist. The increasing number of refugees seeking protection within European borders in the last years has unveiled a major divergence of interests particularly between Sweden and Finland regarding the common European asylum policy: Sweden has within a few years turned into one of the continent’s top destinations for asylum seekers, whereas Finland has characterized itself as one of Europe’s most restrictive asylum and migration management regimes. The openly stated differences of these two countries, both in terms of actual numbers and implemented national policy guidelines, are representative for the opposing political forces emerging within the European Union in shaping the common asylum policy. Due to the increasing internal and external pressure on the EU in managing the refugee crisis, this issue has not only gained significant importance and emphasis on a national level, but also from a European point of view.

This volume differentiates the Nordic perspectives on shaping EU asylum policies by focusing on the two contrasting country case studies of Sweden and Finland. Why have these neighbouring countries, characterized by similar economic and social welfare systems, chosen such different approaches in facing the challenges arising from the refugee crisis and in implementing asylum policies? For both countries, questions for the interests of key actors dominating the national debates on asylum policy are prevalent. The respective agendas of Sweden and Finland, their different political approaches and problems inside their respective societies as well as the national strategies at the European level in shaping the Common European Asylum System in light of the refugee crisis are in the focus of the contributions.