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01/10/2016

Sweden drops plans for closing bridge from Denmark

Justice & Home Affairs

Sweden drops plans for closing bridge from Denmark

The Øresund bridge, connecting Denmark and Sweden.

[European Roads/Flickr]

Sweden’s government has dropped a plan to tighten control over the influx of refugees by halting road traffic on a main bridge from Denmark in an emergency, after a top legal watchdog and the opposition objected, the interior minister said on Tuesday (8 December).

The minority centre-left government said in November it would widen ID checks to include all public transport to Sweden and tighten asylum rules in a bid to reduce the number of asylum seekers.

Last week, it said the plans included a proposal to make it possible for the government to halt road – but not railway – traffic to Sweden on security grounds in an emergency, including on the Øresund bridge to Denmark.

The Øresund bridge, linking Denmark’s capital Copenhagen with Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, is extensively used by commuters as well as for freight traffic. Around 20,000 motor vehicles cross it every day.

But on Monday (7 December), the Swedish Council on Legislation, the top legal watchdog, said the plans to tighten the borders resembled martial law and would violate refugees’ right to seek asylum in Sweden.

Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told state broadcaster SVT on Tuesday that the government would not push the proposals through parliament with support from the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats only, and that it would now focus on widenening ID checks, where it has broader backing.

“We have had a discussion both in the government and with the opposition after the Council’s criticism, and we make the overall assessment that we back down from the authorisation about the bridge and proceed with the part about ID checks,” Ygeman said.

The country expects up to 190,000 asylum seekers this year.

Sweden imposed temporary border controls in early November, the first in over two decades and a turn-around in its generous migration policies. 

Background

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 120,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the hundred thousands of refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.