Norway mulls passport controls for refugees

The Norwegian government is considering introducing passport controls on its border with Sweden to bring the number of refugees entering the country under control.

Norway mulls passport controls for refugees
Norwegians may once again have to show their passports at the Swedish border. Photo: Norwegian Government

Jøran Kallmyr, State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice,  told Norway's Nettavisen new site that “increasing border controls” was “one of several measures that we are continuously considering.” 

Although Norway is not a member of the European Union, it is party to the Schengen agreement, which enables individuals to travel between 26 countries without border controls.

Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all this week introduced temporary border controls, in an effort to gain control of a rapid rise in the number of refugees entering the country.
Hungary, meanwhile, has closed it main border crossing for refugees coming from Serbia. 
EU ministers on Monday held emergency talks in Brussels over a European Commission plan to, amongst other measures, accept 120,000 more refugees this year, and allocate them between members states. 
A leaked draft of the communiqué, seen by the Financial Times, accepted the Commission's proposal, but insisted that the scheme be voluntary rather than mandatory. 
Germany expects to accept 800,000 refugees this year, by far the highest number of any European Union country. 
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said yesterday that the country expected to accept 15,000, nonetheless insisting that Norway was playing a leading role in Europe.
“If the stream of asylum seekers continues, perhaps 16,000-17000 asylum seekers will come this year. Let's say that 12,000 of them will stay. Along with 3,000 quota refugees we have a total of 15,000 refugees. They need to be settled in Norwegian municipalities,”  Solberg told Norway's Dagbladet newspaper.
Paal Frisvold,  chief executive of Brusselkontoret, which lobbies for Norwegian companies in the Europe Union,  said that states that are part of Schengen can introduce border controls under certain conditions.

“It is in accordance with the agreement if there is a threat to national security, but it is a rather drastic political initiative,” he said.




Norway flirts with the idea of a ‘mini Brexit’ in election campaign

On paper, Norway's election on Monday looks like it could cool Oslo's relationship with the European Union but analysts say that appearances may be deceiving.

Norway flirts with the idea of a 'mini Brexit' in election campaign
The Centre Party's leader Slagsvold Vedum has called for Norway's relationship with the European Union to be renegotiated. Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB / AFP

After eight years of a pro-European centre-right government, polls suggest the Scandinavian country is headed for a change of administration.

A left-green coalition in some shape or form is expected to emerge victorious, with the main opposition Labour Party relying on the backing of several eurosceptic parties to obtain a majority in parliament.

In its remote corner of Europe, Norway is not a member of the EU but it is closely linked to the bloc through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

The deal gives Norway access to the common market in exchange for the adoption of most European directives.

Both the Centre Party and the Socialist Left — the Labour Party’s closest allies, which together have around 20 percent of voter support — have called for the marriage of convenience to be dissolved.

“The problem with the agreement we have today is that we gradually transfer more and more power from the Storting (Norway’s parliament), from Norwegian lawmakers to the bureaucrats in Brussels who are not accountable,” Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum said in a recent televised debate.


Defending the interests of its rural base, the Centre Party wants to replace the EEA with trade and cooperation agreements.

However, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, who is expected to become the next prime minister, does not want to jeopardise the country’s ties to the EU, by far Norway’s biggest trading partner.

“If I go to my wife and say ‘Look, we’ve been married for years and things are pretty good, but now I want to look around to see if there are any other options out there’… Nobody (in Brussels) is going to pick up the phone” and be willing to renegotiate the terms, Gahr Store said in the same debate.

Running with the same metaphor, Slagsvold Vedum snapped back: “If your wife were riding roughshod over you every day, maybe you would react.”

EU a ‘tough negotiating partner’

Initially, Brexit gave Norwegian eurosceptics a whiff of hope. But the difficulties in untangling British-EU ties put a damper on things.

“In Norway, we saw that the EU is a very tough negotiating partner and even a big country like Britain did not manage to win very much in its negotiations,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

While Norwegians have rejected EU membership twice, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, a majority are in favour of the current EEA agreement.

During the election campaign, the EU issue has gradually been pushed to the back burner as the Centre Party — which briefly led in the polls — has seen its support deflate.

The nature of Norway’s relationship to the bloc will depend on the distribution of seats in parliament, but experts generally agree that little is likely to change.

“The Labour Party will surely be firm about the need to maintain the EEA agreement,” said Johannes Bergh, political scientist at the Institute for Social Research, “even if that means making concessions to the other parties in other areas”.

Closer cooperation over climate?

It’s possible that common issues, like the fight against climate change, could in fact bring Norway and the EU even closer.

“Cooperation with the EU will very likely become stronger because of the climate issue” which “could become a source of friction” within the next coalition, Sverdrup suggested.

“Even though the past 25 years have been a period of increasingly close cooperation, and though we can therefore expect that it will probably continue, there are still question marks” surrounding Norway’s future ties to the EU, he said.

These likely include the inclusion and strength of eurosceptics within the future government as well as the ability of coalition partners to agree on all EU-related issues.

Meanwhile, Brussels is looking on cautiously. The EEA agreement is “fundamental” for relations between the EU and its
partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to EU spokesman Peter Stano.

But when it comes to the rest, “we do not speculate on possible election outcomes nor do we comment on different party positions.”