Since Norway entered Schengen in 1999, the prison population has increased from around 2,500 to 3,500. (Photo:

Open borders, closed Europe

The EU and the member states seem to be heading towards a form of government where punishment and penal policy play a larger role, says Norwegian researcher.

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As part of the research project 'Justice in the Risk Society', Synnøve Ugelvik, a researcher at the Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo, explores how Europe's open borders affect European societies.

“The harmonisation of criminal law between EU member states have led to a more 'penalising' society, with longer prison sentences and larger prison populations,” she says.

Although part of the EU, Norway has signed up to the Schengen Agreement which ensures co-operation with EU on external border control for the 26-country Schengen Area and strict controls for citizens arriving from countries outside EU and Schengen.

“Stricter control of foreign citizens is an unavoidable result of a more integrated Europe, actively striving to prevent and minimise risk,” argues Ugelvik. “As part of Schengen, Norway is facing the same challenges as EU members.”

Stricter control of foreign citizens is an unavoidable result of a more integrated Europe.

Synnøve Ugelvik

Ugelvik is the co-author of the book Justice and Security in the 21st Century, where research findings point to a marked change in criminal sentencing and policies in Western democracies over the past 50 years.

“These changes can be viewed in the context of increased criminality, but the findings also describe how Western societies have developed their own culture of crime control," she says. "The 'ever-increasing' criminality is perceived as sufficiently threatening to justify more intrusion into public spaces and individual lives.” 

This worldview is characteristic of the 'risk society' – a term used to reflect a world in which EU and European citizens fear losing control over external threats, and where ever-present risks are met with xenophobia and an increased use of criminal law.

“We see a tendency where the criminal court system is shifting the focus from 'our' criminals, 'our' poor and 'our' drug addicts, to non-EU citizens – leading to exclusion, stigmatising and increased control," says the researcher.

"The foreigners and the poor are seen as a security risk. Open borders and globalisation create more uncertainties, which in some countries could lead to tough measures with zero tolerance and attempts to eliminate uncertainty as far as possible.”

Similar developments can be seen in Norway, where there is a focus on minimising insecurity by extending criminal law to include new areas, giving more non-EU citizens prison sentences, and increasing sentences overall.

Since Norway entered Schengen in 1999, the prison population has increased from around 2,500 to 3,500, according to Ugelvik. Statistics on the composition of prisoners suggest that this increase has come from non-EU citizens – a possible consequence of Schengen membership and EU migration.

“A key question is how to treat prisoners who will be sent out of the country,” she says. “Should there be different criteria for foreign and Norwegian prisoners when it comes to sentencing? Would it be fair and just to apply different criteria to different groups of people?”

These issues are challenging the principles of equal treatment and the rule of law – challenges we as a society so far haven't met, argues Ugelvik.


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