Cities Rising: European Municipalities and the Refugee Surge

By Davis, Martha F. | Suffolk Transnational Law Review, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Cities Rising: European Municipalities and the Refugee Surge


Davis, Martha F., Suffolk Transnational Law Review


I. Introduction

The Oresund region is a transnational metropolitan area that embraces Skane in southern Sweden and the Zealand region of Denmark. (1) The two countries of the Oresund are linked across the narrow Oresund strait by an iconic bridge connecting Copenhagen, the Danish capital city, with Malmo, Sweden's third largest city. (2)

This international region has often been identified with the successes of the European Union. (3) In the sixteen years since it was built, the Oresund Bridge has transformed the area, creating an unprecedented ease of travel between Sweden and Denmark. (4) Cities in the region have worked across national borders, spending large sums of money to brand it as a single metropolitan unit. (5) Many of the area's workers live in Malmo and commute across the bridge to Copenhagen, or vice versa. (6) Even tourism information links the two cities; for example, the Copenhagen tourist website suggests, "Why not take a day trip to Sweden while visiting Copenhagen?" (7) The Oresund Bridge and the development of the Oresund region more generally, has been an economic boost for the two cities--Malmo and Copenhagen --that are so closely linked by the bridge. (8)

The refugee surge from Syria has affected the Oresund region along with the rest of Europe. (9) Consistent with Raoul Wallenberg's well-known humanitarian legacy, Sweden has reportedly accepted the highest number of refugees per capita of any European country. (10) Its Oresund partner, Denmark, in contrast, has been criticized for enacting a law permitting seizure of asylum seekers' assets above USD 1,450, and slashing social benefits available to these new arrivals. (11) In January 2016, as thousands of refugees sought to quickly transit through Denmark and make their way to the more welcoming country of Sweden by coming over the Oresund Bridge, Sweden imposed border controls. (12) Though the controls affect all Swedish borders, the impact at the Oresund Bridge is the most dramatic and disruptive. What was once an uneventful train ride between the two closely aligned countries is now the crossing of a guarded international border. All trains from Denmark to Sweden are stopped for searches from border control guards, with the attendant delays, tensions and costs. These checks are costly both in terms of personnel to conduct them and lost revenue as travelers cancel discretionary travel. (13)

Not surprisingly, many city leaders, businesses and residents of Malmo, Copenhagen, and other cities of the Oresund region, have strong feelings about this turn of events. (14) The millions of Danish and Swedish kronor spent branding Oresund as a single region, have now been jeopardized by passport requirements and transportation delays. Lives have been disrupted. With the cancellation of train routes in order to streamline the controls, some commutes have gone from one-half hour to one hour or more. (15) Because of Swedish and Danish cooperation that preceded the Schengen agreement, it is the first time in almost sixty years that there have been border controls between Sweden and Denmark. (16) European Union law requires that such controls be re-imposed only on a temporary basis, but controls have already been extended multiple times and no one really knows when it will end, if ever. (17)

The media coverage of the European refugee surge has focused primarily on jockeying among national governments and the European Union as they debate overarching migration and border policies for the region. However, the influx of refugees has also had dramatic impacts on local governments throughout Europe. (18) The Oresund region is just one example. Housing, water and sanitation, literacy and education, cultural diversity, and issues of inclusion, are all addressed on the local--not national --level, and are just a few of the issues raised by newly arrived refugees.

This essay focuses on these local impacts, examining what they indicate about the inadequacies of the current structural relationships between Europe's local, national, and regional governments in the context of mass migration. …

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