Former Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has urged Norway to “be more open” to immigration despite the challenges it can bring. As terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists continued in Paris this week, Reinfeldt nonetheless claimed at a major business conference in Oslo that willingness to accept immigrants is a sign that a nation is poised for growth.
Sweden currently ranks as the country that’s taking in the most immigrants of any other European nation on a per capita basis. Sweden’s acceptance of large numbers of refugees from Syria has been praised internationally, and is running 10 times that of Norway even though Norway arguably has greater economic strength to absorb such a wave of new residents.
Reinfeldt conceded that immigration “clearly is not uproblematic,” and the country recently faced a government crisis when an anti-immigration party in Parliament managed to block passage of a new state budget. The advantages of immigration, however, outweigh the disadvantages, he told his large audience at the annual conference of Norway’s employers’ organization NHO. Instead of “building walls higher” to keep out asylum seekers and immigrants who want to come to Europe, Reinfeldt suggested immigration can be a means of boosting population growth and fueling the welfare state with new contributing workers. Without immigration, he reminded his audience, the populations of Norway, Sweden and Europe as a whole will sink over the next 25 years, not grow.
The challenge, Reinfeldt acknowledged, lies in quickly integrating new immigrants into the workforce. His speech was well-received by NHO members polled afterwards, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg agreed with many of Reinfeldt’s points. She said “there were limits,” though, to how many immigrants Norway can absorb and get into the workforce. TV2 reported that Norwegian authorities estimate around 11,000 asylum seekers will arrive in Norway this year, compared to 95,000 in Sweden.