Immigration and citizenship: is there a future for free movement?

Saturday 17 November, 16:0017:15, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, StockholmBattle of Ideas Europe


This debate is part of Battle of Ideas Stockholm

European countries have recently become convulsed by debates over immigration, freedom of movement and the implications for citizenship. In Germany, opinion was split on Chancellor Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow a major influx of Syrian refugees. While many welcomed her humanitarian stance, others saw it as reckless and irresponsible. Amid the intense debate on immigration that ensued, Merkel’s CDU party was hit by an electoral backlash. Issues related to immigration have also been prominent in elections in France, Italy and Sweden, to name but a few. In Italy, the new coalition government prioritised reducing immigration. The interior minister and League party leader, Matteo Salvini, banned ships operated by humanitarian groups from landing rescued migrants and refugees in Italy.

In addition to fortifying the external borders of Europe, many now argue for an end to freedom of movement within Europe. Some EU countries have reintroduced border controls in the once-borderless Schengen area. After accepting 160,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, the Swedish government implemented new rules to drastically reduce numbers the following year, including introducing fines for transport companies that allow undocumented passengers to enter the country. Some commentators have criticised Sweden’s strict personal number rules arguing they are in breach of EU’s free movement of persons and workers. For EU citizens and their families living in Sweden who have been refused a ‘personnummer’, this can mean being unable to engage in everyday life in Sweden, including accessing many private or public services.

In addition to restricting movement, some countries are introducing new laws which place restrictions on the freedom of many immigrants. Bans on wearing face veils in public have already been enacted in several countries, most recently in Denmark. Indeed, the Danish government has recently gone further, forcing children living in ‘ghetto’ neighbourhoods containing large numbers of migrants to take lessons on democracy and equality, as well as traditions such as Christmas.

Some have blamed ‘populist’ campaigns and movements for stoking prejudice against migrants. However, although there are elements of prejudice in some anti-immigrant views, many argue that there are also legitimate concerns about the scale of immigration in recent years. At a time of austerity in public services and wages, they say rapid population increases in particular areas have resulted in unsustainable pressures on local health, education and social services. Others point to the public’s concerns about culture and national identity. Against those who champion freedom of movement as an economic necessity and a human right, some complain of the dramatic changes caused by immigration to which many longstanding citizens did not consent.

It was recently announced that more than one in six people living in Sweden was born outside the country. Does this change what it means to be a ‘Swede’? How should we view immigration today? Is there still a case to be made for a more open, liberal approach to immigration, or have European publics swung immovably to the right on this issue? What is the relationship between citizenship and migration? What rights, obligations and privileges should countries confer on non-citizens? Who is and who can become a citizen?