“Being frustrated about inequality and injustice was not enough”

Cecilia Malmström. Photo: Hans Doverholm. wikicommons

Interview with Cecilia Malmström

One year since the Arab spring the European Union is facing a great challenge in handling the stream of refugees trying to get across its borders. On Friday the 27th of January the Association of Foreign Affairs in Lund invited European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström to give a lecture about the current situation and the aim for a common European migration policy. The crowded lecture hall proved that these are hot topics and the Commissioner had to tackle several questions from vocal students.

Migration is a controversial matter. Today the stakes are even higher with six Union members receiving 75 percent of all migrants. An unsustainable situation according to the Commissioner who claims that a joint solution regarding migration is urgent.

How is your passion for issues concerning migration politics expressed through your daily work?

–  I visit refugee camps both within and outside of the Union and my aim is to highlight the human perspective of migration and the fact that migration is something which is basically positive.

Looking back at several former attempts in securing a common migration policy, what indicates that this time will be successful?

–  I am most optimistic because this specific proposal has been signed by all member countries. Today we are facing a tremendous lack of balance where some countries are taking a big responsibility for migration and some none. This is embarrassing.

 – We also have to remember that the most-worshipped god in the European Union is Compromise. If this program will be accepted 2012 it will probably be implemented 2014 and then we will see the outcome.

–  I am hopeful the outcome will be good but if the question is: “will the outcome be as good as it would be in my dream world?” the answer is “no, it is not going to be that good”. My hope is that the concessions that have to be made will be as few as possible.

Lately we have seen an increased occurrence of xenophobic and anti-Islamic movements in Europe. What is the Commission doing to prevent the breeding of these ideas?

– In my opinion, not enough. On the other hand we cannot sit in Brussels and defeat xenophobic parties. The responsibility lies with individuals and politicians at the national and local levels, a responsibility not always taken. Sometimes it seems like politicians are licking the boots of the xenophobic parties instead of taking the debate.

Some critics claim that the EU is building a “Fortress Europe” with extreme border controls.

– Partly there is substance in that criticism, but on the other hand it is natural that the EU is controlling its borders, all countries must do that. It is essential for citizens’ sense of security. But on the other hand there can be a tendency that the EU is too closed towards those in need of help.

What is your opinion on the possibilities for a future enlargement of the Union?

– So far I think enlargement has been fantastic. We have seen former dictatorships turning into democracies with the aim of becoming members of the Union. But it is essential that requirements are put on applicant countries. One of the most important foundations of the Union is confidence in member nations and unless we can trust in a member state’s judicial system we cannot trust that they have an acceptable asylum policy, for instance.

How are these requirements obeyed by the member states?

– This is actually one of the deepest problems in the EU today. We have big opportunities to influence applicant countries but almost none in our member states. When states have become members there is little political interest in critizising them. We saw an explicit example of this during Berlusconi’s regime in Italy concerning media control. The unwillingness to criticise our members communicates that the EU is keen to judge non-members but as long as you are inside you do not have to make as big an effort. There is definitely a need for a system in which member states can enforce the rules on each other.

In summer 2010 a couple of Romani were expelled from Sweden without reasonable grounds. What is your comment on that incident?

– That case is still the subject of investigation. Every country has the right to expel people who do not have the right to remain inside the country, it could be a question of such circumstances as individuals who have not been granted asylum or who have committed crimes. In the aforementioned case no crime was committed, which means that it was a mistake to expel.

Last year several cases of heavy handed expulsions gained attention in Sweden. Our country has been criticised by Frontex for lack of transparency in the expulsion process.

– Deportations of people who are not allowed to stay in a country are always very painful. Now a new law is being implemented which makes it compulsory that an independent observer is part of the expulsion process. This is to make sure that the expulsions are being done as gently as possible.

Let us end this interview with a more personal question. What made you initially interested in politics?

–  At some point I felt that sitting in front of the news report being frustrated about inequality and injustice was not enough, I had to find a way to express those feelings. You can do this in many ways, mine was politics.


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