Press review North by Northwest

The lives of undocumented others

This month's selection of carefully chosen topics and articles from the independent press to give an insight into what's happening in Northwestern Europe: Sweden’s ruling coalition prepares to introduce a law forcing public employees to report undocumented migrants, Pope Francis pleads for humanity, and Belgian researchers map the geographical continuity of the far-right and far-left in Flanders.

Published on 5 October 2023 at 10:39

Instead of European solidarity, recent events in Lampedusa triggered all too familiar discord, between Italy, Germany and France especially. With the 2024 European elections looming, it’s safe to say that migration will be a key issue for many voters. Below I highlight five standout articles dealing with various responses to the issue in Sweden, France and Belgium.  

While Sweden’s three-party coalition was narrowly elected on a platform of reducing immigration, one particular proposal is causing considerable pushback from Swedish unions and public sector workers. The law, part of the Tidö Agreement which established the coalition, would oblige public employees to report all undocumented migrants they encounter – patients, clients, students, colleagues – to immigration authorities.

Arbetet, a Swedish paper focused on workers’ rights and the labour market, talked to lawyer and labour law expert Tommy Iseskog about the implications of the proposed law (Lawyer on whistleblower law: "We would end up in the same club as East Germany", by Anton Andersson, SV). Besides violating “basic democratic principles” and placing Sweden in the “same club as East Germany”,  Iseskog argues that the law is incoherent and incompatible with Sweden’s existing labour laws.     

Rebecca Selberg in The Conversation (Professionals in Sweden are pushing back hard against a rightwing plan to make them snitch on undocumented migrants, by Rebecca Selberg, EN) describes the forces – including teachers, nurses and social workers, as well as their unions – rising in opposition to the so-called “snitch law”. Selberg concludes that any climbdown from the policy could cause the hardline Sweden Democrats to pull the plug on the Tidö agreement and even the coalition itself. 

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

In France, there was a more spiritual battle on the topic of migration. Two articles in Le Grand Continent provide the historical and religious context behind the mass led by Pope Francis in Marseille on 23 September. 

To the predictable dismay of French conservatives, Pope Francis took the opportunity to condemn “alarmist propagandaand plead for a humane response to people fleeing hardship. Marseille, the second largest Mediterranean port, made a fitting location, as Jean-Benoît Poulle explains (Pope Francis’s Mass in Marseille: 10 things to know about the visit “to the Mediterranean” but “not to France”, Jean-Benoît Poulle, FR ES). Formerly a “crossroads of civilisation”, the Mediterranean has, according to the Pope, become an “underwater graveyard” in recent years.

Meanwhile, Gilles Gressani (The church and migration: the prophetic choice of a multiethnic Europe, Gilles Gressani, FR IT ES) traces the Pope’s words back to those spoken by former archbishop of Milan Carlo Maria Martini in 1990. When Francis suggests that the Mediterranean "cries out for justice, with its shores that on the one hand exude affluence, consumerism and waste, while on the other there is poverty and instability", he echoes Martini’s declaration that migration is “an invitation to reverse the decadent course towards consumerism and facile satisfaction with our possessions”.

Of perhaps little surprise, migration turns out to be one of the lasting factors behind far-right electoral success in Flanders, writes Knack (Far-left and far-right strongholds in Flanders: not always the same as in the 1930s, Jeroen de Preter, NL, paywall). 

Four years ago, historian Davide Cantoni concluded that Germany’s Alternativ für Deutschland is more successful in the same regions in which Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists were more successful in 1933. Inspired by this research, Leuven-based political scientists Marc Hooghe and Dieter Stiers wanted to see if similar “geographical continuities” can be identified in Flanders. Instead of 1933, they compare the elections of 1936 and 2019, when both the far-left (the Communist Party of Belgium, and the Workers’ Party of Belgium) and far-right (the Flemish National Union, and Vlaams Belang) performed remarkably well.

Interestingly, Hooghe and Stiers find that this continuity only exists for the far-left, and not for the far-right. They do, however, find some continuity between regions where the far-right were less successful, namely large cities with a more diverse and more educated populace (“the far-right and higher education, as a rule, are not a good match”). The researchers point out that anti-immigration parties do better in areas with less migration. Even in 1936, the cities were relatively diverse, with workers from Eastern Europe, and Jewish people fleeing anti-semitism.   

More picks

Tears, compromise, divorce – what it’s like to leave the UK because of Brexit

Nando Sigona | The Conversation | 18 September 2023 | EN

Brexit forced painful choices on many Europeans living in the UK. Nando Sigona reports on the experiences of EU families in the UK facing the impact of Britain’s national divorce, especially those couples who don’t share a home nation. Families pursued two main strategies: choosing a destination suitable for most members or finding a temporary solution where some family members would emigrate first. The story of Maria, who divorced her British husband due to Brexit, highlights the emotional toll and complexities involved. 

Belgium is heating up, as wine gains ground on beer

Mehdi Laïdouni | Reporterre | 29 September 2023 | FR

Primarily known for its beers, Belgium is emerging as a notable player in the wine industry, with 259 wine producers in 2022 and a growing reputation for quality. Local wine production benefits from expertise and favourable conditions, including climate change, which allows for vine cultivation in regions that were once unsuitable. Belgian winemakers are also exploring innovative approaches, such as interspecific grape varieties, to adapt to changing climate conditions and reduce pesticide use.

Murdoch poisoned public life for 70 years — but we still owe him a debt

Alan Rusbridger | Prospect | 24 September 2023 | EN

Alan Rusbridger, who served as editor of the Guardian for 20 years, discusses the complex legacy of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. While acknowledging his contributions to journalism, Rusbridger highlights significant ethical and professional failings within Murdoch's media empire, not least the phone hacking scandal. Murdoch's powerful influence on politics and the media in multiple countries is also scrutinised, raising questions about the concentration of media power in the hands of one individual.

Ten things you need to know about bed bugs

Romain Métairie | Libération | 29 September 2023 | FR

French social media is suddenly abuzz with talk of bed bugs, with many concerned that they could cause embarrassment during next year’s Olympic Games. Romain Métairie discusses the resurgence of Cimex lectularius in France and the challenges they pose. Bed bugs are small, blood-feeding insects that primarily target humans at night, attracted by body heat and CO2 emissions. Globalised and nomadic lifestyles, encouraged by home-sharing platforms like Airbnb, contribute to the spread of bed bugs. The economic and health costs of bed bug infestations are significant, prompting calls for more comprehensive prevention and assistance measures.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.


Was this article useful? If so we are delighted!

It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans.

Discover our subscription offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic