Camilla Nordberg, Nordic Perspectives on the European Asylum System: The Dismantling of the Finnish Welfare State and the Rise of an overt Anti-Immigration Agenda in:

Wolfram Hilz, Daniele Saracino (ed.)

Nordic Perspectives on the European Asylum System, page 99 - 110

The cases of Sweden and Finland

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-3998-4, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6738-3,

Series: Bonner Studien zum globalen Wandel, vol. 23

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
99 7 Nordic Perspectives on the European Asylum System: The Dismantling of the Finnish Welfare State and the Rise of an overt Anti-Immigration Agenda Camilla Nordberg 1 Introduction “Through accelerating the processing of asylum applications, the aim is to bring a message to the world that welfare refugeeism in Finland no longer works” Kari Häkämies, Minister of the Interior, HS, 3.2.2000 "Both the person planning the journey and Finland benefit from a realistic message about the possibility to get asylum in Finland. If an expulsion is almost certain, why waste 10 000 euros on a pointless journey […] All means that have proved successful must be used to get a grip on the uncontrolled immigration" Sampo Terho, Parliamentary delegation leader, Finns Party, HS, 23.10.2015 The first statement by former Minister of the Interior, Kari Häkämies (National Coalition Party) was made in the year 2000 in relation to an increasing number of Roma asylum-seekers from Slovakia and Romania. The other quote is from the recent political stir around the increasing number of individuals applying for asylum in Finland in 2015. None of them are particularly controversial or colourful quotes – rather very typical for the Finnish debate. The aim of this contribution is to historically contextualize the Finnish immigration policy debate with a particular focus on asylum. Last year – starting in fall 2015 – was featured by an unforeseen political activity in relation to immigration management in Europe and beyond, resembling all the characteristics of a traditional ‘moral panic’.1 In Finland, however, open support for an anti-immigration political agenda has been on the rise since the municipal electoral victory of the nationalist populist ‘Finns Party’ (Perussuomalaiset) in 2008. After the 2015 parliamentary elections, the Finns Party became one of the forming parties of the centre-right coalition government. The party-political composition of the current administration is intriguing. Power is shared between three parties with detrimentally different views on migration, economic policy, globalization and urban restructuring: the Centre 1 See Goode, E. & Ben-Yehuda, N.: Moral Panics: Culture, Politics, and Social Construction, in: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 20, 1994, pp. 149-171. 100 Party (agrarian) with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, the Finns Party (nationalist social conservative, populist) and the National Coalition Party (liberal conservative). Indeed, broad coalitions have been a legacy of the Finnish tradition of government, resulting in compromise and consensus-driven policymaking. To make sense of the migration-related political development in 2015 and 2016, it is worth acknowledging this specific political institutional context. In such a time of challenging internal ideological positioning, the government parties have varied influence on different policy fields, depending on the negotiations during government formation. The Finns Party has successfully taken command of border control and migrant integration issues. While the new government was consolidating, an increasing number of refugees arrived in Europe from Syria, but also from Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them heading north. From 2014 to 2015, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland increased tenfold, from 3.600 in 2014 to 32.000 in 2015.2 The measures taken by the political elite involved different amendments of the Aliens Act. In general terms, the aim of Sipilä’s administration has been to prevent asylumseekers from seeking protection specifically in Finland, to streamline the processing of appeals and make the courts operate more efficiently: In December 2015, the government launched an action plan on asylumseekers containing 80 measures that aimed to stem “the uncontrolled influx of asylum seekers into the country, to contain asylum costs and to integrate efficiently those who have been granted asylum. Finland will also make the asylum and return processes more effective and contribute to the management of the EU's external borders.”3 Asylum-seekers who benefitted from integration measures would be required some form of work contribution, because it “is better for the social peace” according to Minister of Interior Jari Lindström (Finns Party).4 2 See Ministry of the Interior: Turvapaikanhakijoita saapui viime vuonna ennätysmäärä (Rapid increase in the number of asylum-seekers), 2016, available at: http:// (25 November 2016). 3 Finnish Immigration Services: Humanitarian protection no longer granted; new guidelines issued for Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, 2015, available at: http://www. protection_no_longer_granted_new_guidelines_issued_for_afghanistan_iraq_and_ somalia_67594 (13 April 2017). 4 Helsingin Sanomat: Hallitus aikoo panna turvapaikanhakijat töihin (The Government is planning to put all asylum-seekers to work), 8 December 2015, available at: (28 November 2016). 101 In May 2016, an amendment of the Aliens Act entered into force. Finland no longer grants humanitarian protection to persons who do not qualify as refugees or persons in need of alternative protection. Before May 2016, humanitarian protection was offered to persons who could not return to their home country due to an environmental catastrophe, a violent conflict or a serious human rights threatening situation. Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia had been considered countries to which asylum-seekers could not be forcedly returned.5 Until May 2016, 40% of the asylum decisions concerning Iraqi citizens were negative. In June, after the amendment, 77% were negative.6 In July 2016, the Aliens Act was amended again, making it more difficult to get permission to apply for family reunification. According to the amendment, persons who have been granted protection will need proof of sufficient income to initiate a process of family reunification. In September 2016, the Ministry of Justice decided to further restrict the legal protection of asylum-seekers. After that it became increasingly difficult to appeal against negative asylum decisions. New restrictions were also introduced in relation to legal aid. The changes are heavily criticized by human rights organizations, scholars, opposition parties and the general public. Also, the Finnish Lutheran Church with Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, is actively involved in the debate and the church is providing “church asylum” to migrants without residence permits. The parts of the legislation that have faced the most severe criticism are the monthly net income requirements for persons applying for family reunification (2.600 EUR for a person with a spouse and two children left behind) and the deeming of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia as safe countries – the three countries with most asylum-seeking persons to Finland. Controversially, in September 2016, the largest national daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a feature story based on interviews with some 20 senior employees at the Finnish Immigration Services and ministry level civil servants affected by the restricting policies. “The performance goals set up by the government are so harsh that they are impossible to reach. The quality of asylum interviews 5 See Finnish Immigration Services: Humanitarian protection no longer granted; new guidelines issued for Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, 2015a, available at: http://www. protection_no_longer_granted_new_guidelines_issued_for_afghanistan_iraq_and_ somalia_67594 (13 April 2017). 6 See Finnish Immigration Services: Asylum decisions for Iraqis: The share of negative decisions has increased, 2015b, available at: bulletins/press_releases/press_releases/1/0/asylum_decisions_for_iraqis_the_share _of_ negative_decisions_has_increased_68701 (13 April 2017). 102 suffers and the legal protection of persons seeking protection is jeopardized”.7 The public outburst caused a vivid debate in social and mainstream media about political steering and the role of human rights in a society under rule of law.8 Even though the Finns Party has promoted itself as representing the voice of the man in the street – of the poor, the pensioners, the unemployed and so forth – it has not gained any meaningful influence over the social policy agenda. On the contrary, the government has been preoccupied with the largest restructuring of social and health care in Finnish history; social and health care will be centralized and the production of services increasingly privatized. Moreover, the government is cutting unemployment benefits, pensions, the universal child allowance and the financial aid to students. It has decreased welfare support to families and dismantled the right to day care. Cuts targeted at the most disadvantaged citizens tend to hit newcomers particularly hard. Their income levels are lower than those of the average family are and they face a higher risk of unemployment or precarious employment.9 Nevertheless, the government has made a number of suggestions that were later proven incompatible with the constitution. For example, the suggestion to reduce the “integration support” for newcomers to 90% of the labour market support (basic unemployment benefit) had to be withdrawn because it did not meet the principle of equality. In the following, this contribution discusses the implications of Finnish nationstate building for these current events and the nature of the rising populism in Finnish policy-making. It will finally be argued that asylum and migration policy debates should be understood as intimately linked to a broader redefinition of the citizen subject in the Finnish welfare state and on a global scale. 2 Finnish trajectories of migratory movement The first time Finland agreed to an annual quota of refugees was in 1985. The number of foreign citizens living in the country at that time was only 17.000. In 2005, 20 years later, the number of foreign citizens was around the 114.000 7 Helsingin Sanomat: Maahanmuuttoviraston työntekijät avautuvat hurjasta kiireestä, joka voi johtaa vääriin turvapaikkapäätöksiin – ”Ei ehditä tutkia tapauksia kunnolla, 4 September 2016, available at: (13 April 2017). 8 Ibid. 9 See Koikkalainen, S. et al.: ‘Welfare or work: migrants’ selective integration in Finland, in: Carmel, E., Cerami, A. & Papadopoulos, T. (eds.): Migration and welfare in the ‘new’ Europe, Policy Press, Bristol, 2011; Munck, R., Schierup, CU. & Delgado Wise, R.: Migration, work and citizenship in the new world order, in: Globalizations, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2011, pp. 249-260. 103 mark – still only 2.1% of the population. In 2015, 230.000 foreign citizens lived in Finland, constituting 4.2% of the population, while 337.000 or 6.1% of the residents were foreign born.10 The increase in immigration started slowly in the late 1980s, actually as a response to rising critique against Finland’s restrictive immigration policy in a time of expanding economic prosperity.11 Finland started receiving more immigrants from Russia and Estonia and a small but growing number of refugees and asylum seekers. The share of labour migrants started increasing only after 2006.12 Of the foreign born today, 55.000 have a background in the former Soviet Union,13 45.000 in Estonia, 32.000 in Sweden and 12.000 in Russia (40%). Smaller groups of migrants are from Iraq, Somalia, China and Thailand, each adding up to around 10.000. Only around 15% of the foreign population in Finland are refugees (Statistics Finland 2016). Most immigrants have arrived for family reasons, as returning migrants of Finnish decent, as students or as workers. Compared to other Western European countries, Finland has attracted small numbers of asylum-seekers, but has also actively tried to maintain a restrictive policy. Despite the low relative numbers, it is indeed important to acknowledge that there has always been migration to Finland even though Finland – as many other European countries – has erased this history from its collective memory, rendering immigration a form of “permanent exception” in Europe, using Leo Lucassen’s words.14 Also, when it comes to past racism and colonialism, the Finnish self-image is one of innocence, more typically seeing itself as a colonial victim of past Swedish rule.15 Racial ideas have arguably played an important 10 See Statistics Finland: Population, 2016, available at: en.html (22 January 2017). 11 See Leinonen, J.: Invisible Immigrants, Visible Expats? Americans in Finnish Discourses on Immigration and Internationalization, in: Nordic Journal of Migration Research, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2012, pp. 213-223. 12 See Helander, M. (ed.): Totta toinen puoli? Työperäisen maahanmuuton todelliset ja kuvitellut kipupisteet, SSKH Skrifter, No. 31, Helsinki, 2011. 13 Country of birth is determined according to the nation-state structure at the moment of birth. For example, Estonians born before Estonia´s independence from the Soviet Union are registered as born in ”the former Soviet Union” rather than in ”Estonia”. 14 See Lucassen, L.: The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New. Urbana, 2005, p. 14; see also Leinonen, J.: Invisible Immigrants, Visible Expats? Americans in Finnish Discourses on Immigration and Internationalization, in: Nordic Journal of Migration Research, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2012, pp. 213-223. 15 See Rastas, A.: Am I Still White? Dealing with the Colour Trouble, in: Balayi: Culture, Law and Colonialism, Vol. 6, 2004, pp. 94-106. 104 role in the construction of the young Finnish nation-state. An essential element of the project of Westernization after Finnish independence from Russia was to convince other Europeans that assigning Finns a lower status in the race taxonomies was false.16 National bard Zacharias Topelius included in the Finnish citizenry the Swedish-speakers, the Karelians, the Russians, the Germans and the Norwegians, while explicitly excluding the Jews and the Roma.17 These historical trajectories necessarily influence contemporary negotiations of “outsiders’” access to the territory. However, today there is increasing tension and polarization between, on the one hand, the promotion of multicultural policies related to innovation, internationalization, and expat (elite) migration,18 and, on the other hand, backwardness, fear and racism related to non-Western, visible minorities who are typically constructed as undeserving and noncontributing.19 3 The legacy of pragmatic economic nationalism The notion of political culture has rightly been criticized for its eclecticism.20 However, predispositions to particular political actions are still, at least to some extent, conditioned to traditions.21 In the Finnish context, the young process of nation-building and the geopolitical position between Sweden and the Soviet Union (Russia) has set its marks on the ways in which the political elite has made sense of and articulated 16 See Leinonen, J.: Invisible Immigrants, Visible Expats? Americans in Finnish Discourses on Immigration and Internationalization, in: Nordic Journal of Migration Research, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2012, pp. 213-223.; Rastas, A.: Reading history through Finnish exceptionalism, in: Loftsdottir, K. & Jensen, L. (eds.): 'Whiteness' and Postcolonialism in the Nordic Region, Burlington, 2012, pp. 89-103. 17 See Häkkinen, A. & Tervonen, M.: ’Vähemmistöt ja köyhyys Suomessa 1800 - ja 1900 - luvuilla’, in: Häkkinen, A. & Tervonen, M. (eds.): Vieraat kulkijat - tutut talot: Näkökulmia etnisyyden ja köyhyyden historiaan Suomessa. Helsinki, 2005, p. 8. 18 See Nordberg, C. et al.: Neoliberal Metropolitanism and the Nordic Welfare State: Paradoxes of (In)equality in the Care Work Regime’, paper presented at the 2013 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, August 2013. 19 See Näre, L. & Nordberg, C.: Neoliberal postcolonialism in the media: constructing Fili-pino nurse subjects in Finland, in: European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2016, pp. 16-32. 20 See Welch, S.: The Concept of Political Culture, Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan, 1993. 21 See Eatwell, R.: Introduction, in: Eatwell, R. (ed.): European Political Culture, London, 2003. 105 their agendas. It has always been quite acceptable among the range of political parties – both on the left and on the right – to draw on nationalist, patriotic rhetoric in the public sphere. Historically, Finnish self-identity has drawn on communitarian ideals. After Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917 and the brutal civil war that followed, the main task of the ruling bourgeois elite was to reunite the nation by different means, among them the creation of a loyal civil society, emphasizing conservative peasant values and conformity. The conservatism of the Finnish officials was patriarchal, substantially engaging in the wellbeing of the people, something which eliminated a potential mobilisation against the state officials. Space for western individualism was limited. The civil organisations became organic parts of the consolidation of the nation.22 The geo-political situation has further emphasized a pragmatic discourse on social reform drawing on functional needs. For example, social historian Pauli Kettunen has concluded that the egalitarian ethos of the Finnish welfare state since its early days has presumed a virtuous circle between social equality and economic austerity.23 After the Second World War, there was a strong atmosphere of national economic necessities and moderate consumption, not the least as a consequence of the reparations to the Soviet Union. In general, Finnish public discourse has, more so than in Sweden, been linked to the language of a competitive economy.24 This was made possible already during the early years of welfare state formation, partly because of the considerable influence of the agrarian center party on social policy making alongside with the social democrats. In Sweden, the working class has been more dominant in the social structure and the social democratic hegemony is stronger.25 Political consensus has necessarily limited the scope for political struggle and consensual economic 22 See Stenius, H.: Massorganisation och nationell sammanhållning (Collective organization and national solidarity), in: Sosiologia, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1982, pp. 119-121. 23 See Kettunen, P.: The transnational construction of national challenges: the ambiguous Nordic model of welfare and competitiveness, in: Kettunen, P. & Peder-sen, K. (eds): Beyond Welfare State Models. Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy, Cheltenham, 2011, pp. 16-40. 24 See Kananen, J.: The Nordic Welfare State in Three Eras: From Emancipation to Discipline, Farnham, 2014; see also Kettunen, P.: The transnational construction of national challenges: the ambiguous Nordic model of welfare and competitiveness, in: Kettunen, P. & Pedersen, K. (eds.): Beyond Welfare State Models. Transnational Historical Perspectives on Social Policy, Cheltenham, 2011, pp. 16-40. 25 See Kosonen, P.: The Finnish Model and the Welfare State in Crisis, in: Kosonen, P. (ed.): The Welfare State as an Idea and as Reality - Renvall Institute Publications 5, Helsinki, 1993. 106 thinking has been maintained through a strong belief in expert knowledge for decision-making.26 Hence, the restrictive stance on last year’s “refugee crisis” in Finland reflects the self-image of a nation-state being capable of rapid, pragmatic decisionmaking in difficult times. Tellingly, the name of the Government Programme is “Finland, a land of solutions”.27 Similar stereotypical ideas about Finnish leadership are known also, for example, in Swedish-Finnish corporate organizations, where Finnish managers are seen as efficient and nonsentimental.28 4 The recent rise of new forms of populism, racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric The last decade has seen a rapid shift in tone in public discourse from constructing migrants as outsiders and strangers to more overt forms of welfare chauvinist discourse and racist talk.29 Niko Pyrhönen has compared the party programmes of the Finns Party in Finland and the equally nationalist populist Sweden Democrats in Sweden.30 He 26 See Kettunen, P.: Consensualism and the Legitimacy of Power – the Case of Finland. Key note: Power and Legitimacy - Annual Seminar of the Power in Finland Research Programme, Tampere, 27 May 2008, available at: home/ptkettun/kettunen-valta08making.pdf (13 April 2017). For an empirical analysis see also Nordberg, C.: Outsourcing Equality: Migrant Care Worker Imaginary in Finnish Media, in: Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3, 2016, pp. 101-118. 27 Prime Minister’s Office: Finland, a land of solutions. Strategic Programme of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Government, Government Publications, No. 12, 29 May 2015, available at: Suomi_EN_YHDISTETTY_netti.pdf/8d2e1a66-e24a-4073-8303-ee3127fbfcac (25 November 2016). 28 See Lämsa, S.: Leadership Styles and Decision-making in Finnish and Swedish Organizations, in: Review of International Comparative Management, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2010, pp. 139-149. 29 See Keskinen, S.: From Welfare Nationalism to Welfare Chauvinism. Economic Rhetoric: Welfare State and the Changing Policies of Asylum in Finland, in: Critical Social Policy, Vol 36, No. 3, 2016, pp. 1-19; see also Pyrhönen, N.: ‘This welfare of ours’: Justifying public advocacy for anti-immigration politics in Finland during the late 2000’s, in: Vad Jønsson, H. et al. (eds.): Migration and welfare states: policies, discourses and institutions, NordWel Studies in Historical Welfare State Research, No. 3, Helsinki, 2013. 30 See Pyrhönen, N.: ‘This welfare of ours’: Justifying public advocacy for antiimmigration politics in Finland during the late 2000’s, in: Vad Jønsson, H. et al. (eds.): 107 concludes that the Finns Party, not surprisingly, has drawn on a welfare nationalist, economy-emphasizing narrative for justifying measures of immigration control and officially attributed racism to so called ‘extremists’. The Sweden Democrats (SD) use more abstract nativist articulations in their ethnocentric political agenda. One example Pyrhönen touches upon is the debate on global human suffering – the Finns Party argues for cutting public spending to developmental aid, but the Sweden Democrats do not employ any economic rationale.31 On the contrary, they have even suggested an increased support through UNHCR, however, clearly prioritizing the welfare of ethnic Swedes over immigrant needs – “Swedish welfare and prosperity must come first”. This way, the party positions itself as unselfish, drawing on cultural rather than economic rationales. However, both the Finns Party and the SD advocate policies implemented outside the receiving country as preferable to granting asylum.32 Indeed, the Finns Party has made a strong rhetoric effort to officially distance itself from the racism that has been a trademark for a number of their representatives, fishing for new middle class voters. Christian Norocel rightly concludes that the Finns Party may have more in common with the antiestablishment Norwegian Progress Party and the Danish People’s Party than with the Sweden Democrats.33 However, Finnish scholarly analyses may slightly underemphasize the role of culture and identity in the Finns Party rhetoric, probably due to the typical comparisons with the Sweden Democrats. The Finns Party is divided between an economic leftist, morally conservative, anti- EU and anti-establishment wing (represented by current party leader Timo Soini) and an outright xenophobic, strongly nationalist wing, fronted by MEP Jussi Halla-Aho.34 Moreover, systematic analyses of the political debate during the last 18 months are yet to be reported. It is possible that the neighbouring populist parties have converged in their language use. Despite the traditionally stronger focus on economic rationales and pragmatism in Finnish populist rhetoric, racialized othering is strongly present, for example in the political manifesto published for the Parliamentary Election in 2015: Migration and welfare states: policies, discourses and institutions, NordWel Studies in Historical Welfare State Research, No. 3, Helsinki, 2013. 31 See Ibid. 32 See Ibid, p. 108. 33 See Norocel, C.: Finland: From Agrarian to Right-Wing Populism, in: Aalberg, T. et al. (eds.): Populist Political Communication in Europe, New York & Milton Park, 2016. 34 See Ibid. 108 “To conclude, Finland needs to abandon the last 25 years of thought that immigration and multiculturalism are intrinsically necessary and desirable concepts. A generous welfare state and open borders are not compatible. The structure of present immigration is only weakening the level of services and the financial wellbeing of the welfare state itself. Finland must remain an open society for those who have the ability and desire to be responsible for their own affairs and live with the principle ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. At the same time, it is necessary to do what we can to prevent the addition of those people looking for an expensive 'free ride.'”35 Scholars have understood the rise of nationalist, chauvinist populism as stemming from a sense of increasingly limited social influence among persons identifying themselves as misunderstood, ordinary heterosexual white men36 – also interpreted as the rise of “white border guard masculinities”37. The Finns Party has been invited into mainstream politics in a more unproblematized manner than the Sweden Democrats, even more so after their government entry in 2015. Their power has been accentuated by their government participation during a time with comparatively large numbers of asylum-seekers entering Finnish soil. With the centre-conservative leadership they have had to give in on their social policy agenda, but they have repeatedly highlighted that migration policy issues are their highest priority. The fact that the party is letting down its “ordinary voters” because of the heavy cuts in social security has lately been reflected in polls with declining support rates. 5 Concluding discussion While it is likely that the racist and colonialist legacy of the Finnish nation-state and national anxiety related to its geo-political position has accentuated a xenophobic and restricted migration policy regime, contemporary asylum policy must ultimately be understood as integral to the broader, rapid transformation of the foundations of the welfare state. These transformations are linked to global processes of the restructuring of the world economy, the 35 The Finns Party: The Finns Party's Immigration Policy, available at: https:// (13 April 2017). 36 See Pyrhönen, N.: The true colours of Finnish welfare nationalism: Consolidation of neo-populist advocacy as a resonant collective identity through mobilization of exclusionary narratives of blue-and-white solidarity, SSKH Schrifter, No. 38, Helsinki, 2015. 37 Keskinen, S.: Antifeminism and White Identity Politics: Political Antagonisms in Radical Right-Wing Populist and Anti-Immigration Rhetoric in Finland, in: Nordic Journal of Migration Research, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2013, pp. 225-232, p. 226. 109 redistribution of wealth, power and influence, but they also have local implications. In the Finnish context, restrictions in asylum policy are introduced parallel with substantial cutbacks in welfare spending. Scholars have raised severe critique towards the dismantling of the welfare state from the point of view of egalitarianism and social justice, and asked whether Finland is approaching a liberal model of welfare, with less universal social provision and an emphasis on commodification and privatization of welfare services.38 In Finnish welfare policy, the traditional normative emphasis on structural equality has given way to a new focus on the individual’s relation to the productive sphere rather than on social structures. This way, the dismantling of the welfare state is also linked to a new understanding of the citizen subject and social rights are increasingly conditional on economic contribution. The critique towards a de-humanization of Finnish asylum policy needs to be more thoroughly analysed within the scope of this general redefinition of the social contract between the state and the people. Simultaneously, at the level of political agency, scholarly interest would benefit from reaching beyond that of populist parties and movements. 38 See Anttonen, A. & Häikiö, L.: Care ‘going market’: Finnish elderly-care policies in transition, in: Nordic Journal of Social Research, Vol. 2, 2011, pp. 1-21; see also Kananen, J.: The Nordic Welfare State in Three Eras: From Emancipation to Discipline. Farnham, 2014.

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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.