‘I’m sick and tired of the immigration debate’: MP

Former culture minister Uffe Elbæk has had enough of the 'us versus them' mentality that has defined the Danish immigration debate for years. We should instead be talking about what it means to be a part of a modern and diverse Denmark, the MP argues in this op-ed.

'I'm sick and tired of the immigration debate': MP
It's time to accept that there is more than one Danish identity, Uffe Elbæk argues. Photo: Colourbox
I recently returned from Almedalen in Visby. Just like at Bornholm’s Folkemøde, there were political parties, grassroots organisations and interest groups in every shape and form.
The official programme contained nearly 3,000 political events and the turnout once again set a record. The Swedes are heading to the polls this year, so there was a lot to discuss.
One would like to think that the upcoming election was what warranted headlines in the Swedish papers during Almedalen. But unfortunately the attention was stolen by the ultra anti-immigrant Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas Parti), who held a speech at one of the town squares.
The neo-Nazi party’s main message was that all of Sweden’s problems have one single cause: immigrants. They are the ones who take our jobs. They are the ones who cause the crime. They are to blame for the sky-high social welfare costs. And so on. The rhetoric was as predictable as it was manipulative. 
In response, the churches of Gotland rang their bells during the party’s speech. 
The message of the bells was one of compassion and diversity, a message that we should remember to look away from the darkness and towards the light. Touching. Moving. Beautiful. And it made me think about how sick and tired I am of the ‘immigrant debate’ in Denmark. 
How about changing gear and focus? How about, instead of taking another ride on the us-versus-them carousel, we begin to discuss what it means to be a resident of Denmark.
Together across political and cultural boundaries, we need to ambitiously examine what it takes to create a new and sustainable ‘us’. An us that can and should include everyone, whether we eat meatballs, kebab or kale.
It will naturally require a set of common social and cultural rules. Particularly in the public arena. We need to make sure that the young Muslim girl doesn’t get her scarf ripped off or that the young girl in a short skirt doesn’t get called a whore. I accept neither the one nor the other. 
But I also don’t buy the suggestion that one ethnic or religious group in Denmark is the cause of all of our problems. 
I saw that argument when the Party of the Swedes gave their speech and we saw it recently at home with the inflamed debate that greeted the opening of Copenhagen’s new mosque.
We also see it when all Poles are suddenly characterised as being here to steal all of our jobs. There it is again: us versus them.
It’s as if we as a nation just simply have a hard time dealing with ‘others’. Even 40 years after joining the EU, our ‘yes’ to the union is still lukewarm. But we don’t want out of the European community either. We stand there hopping from one foot to the other. Yes, and no.
The same can bee seen when the discussion turns to whether Denmark is or is not a culturally diverse country. Well, just take a look around. We are a culturally diverse society. 
There are many Danish identities. Not just one. That is a recognition we need to embrace. Meanwhile, we also need to fight against the concept of ‘the enemy’, dogmatism and cheap opinions. Regardless of who is behind them or where they come from.
That’s my approach to solving the challenges that come with being a culturally diverse, multicoloured society. We as a society should have the courage to look concrete social and cultural problems directly in the eye. Otherwise we will never be able to create a sustainable ‘us’. 
In this process, there must be no issue that is off limits and no position of power – be it social, economic, cultural or religious – that is too sacred. 
But just as it is important to look our problems directly in the eye, it is equally vital that we have the courage to look each other in the eye. 
Surprisingly enough, it is often the latter that requires the most courage. The courage to see the world from another’s point of view. To feel the other – even when the other has completely different values than yourself. If each and every one of us can summon that courage, we’ll be able to figure it out. 
Our future is common, whether we like it or not. 
Uffe Elbæk is a member of parliament and the political spokesperson for Alternativet. This op-ed was originally published in Politiken and has been translated and republished with the author's approval.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.