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New Border Controls in Europe?

19 May, 2011 15:26  Erin Erin

Denmark moves to reinstate border control

STOP © Olga Beregelia - FotoliaOn May 11th, Denmark announced that it was resuming checks along its borders with Germany and Sweden. This is a huge blow to the entire system as checks were suspended in 2001 when Denmark joined the Schengen agreement. The Schengen Area is supposed to operate like a single state for international travel with border controls for those traveling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls. Implementing the Schengen rules meant eliminating border controls with other Schengen members while simultaneously strengthening border controls with non-member states. It is legal under current law to allow spot checks at the border, but systematic controls are not allowed. Whether a passport or an EU approved national identity card is required for identity checks depends on national rules and varies between countries.

The A7 runs from Hamburg up into central Denmark, possibly bringing undesirable international traffic. The Danish government says the resumption of border checks is needed to help prevent cross-border crime, illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Danish officials have stated that there are issues with open borders that the EU has not addressed.

In light of this announcement, the EU has reacted angrily. Opponents fear this negates the key principles of a united, integrated Europe. Coming after the worldwide economic crisis that shook the usually stabile European monetary union, this seems like an especially dangerous move to the authority of the EU. In addition to these woes, there is anger among many EU nations at bailing out countries that are floundering such as Greece.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission which initiates and polices EU law, told the Danish government that he had "important doubts about whether the measures would be in line with Denmark's obligations under European and international law, in particular on the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital and the provisions of Schengen". In a letter to Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, he wrote "We will take all necessary steps to ensure the full respect of the relevant law". Far from backing off, the Danes have said they want to start erecting physical barriers within three weeks. The debate is currently being waged in the de facto capital of the European Union, Brussels.

France is calling for border-treaty reform

It is interesting that Denmark is the first to make such a dramatic move. Troubles with immigration have been brewing in Italy and France as people have been arriving, legally and illegally, trying to escape the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. An incident where France started an illegal check of the Italian border had already prompted discussion within the EU about border control. This incident has raised fears in the rest of the EU, as once you are in, you can travel from Portugal's Atlantic coast to Poland's border with Russia without showing a passport.

Meeting in Italy at the end of April, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, said that the Schengen treaty [1] must account for "exception" situations such as massive immigration flows. However, international agencies have strongly citicized such statements, saying that while the 500,000 inhabitants of the EU were fearing 20,000 immigrants from Tunisia, North African countries were trying to cope with more than 600,000 people who have left Libya and transited through neighbouring countries; Tunisia, Egypt have kept their borders open, Chad and Mali and others have done the same. They added that both governments were addressing their own political agenda at home.

Fears about immigration and the economic crisis are being played upon by some right-wing parties. The candidate from the French party Front National, Marine Le Pen, is ramping up his campaign talking about these issues. Finland's government has also taken a turn for the right-wing with last month's general election brining in the True Finns party. Even the move in Denmark was influenced by the conservative Danish People's Party.

However, these concerns are not only held by those on the right. A poll by a Danish newspaper suggested 70 percent of Danes wanted tougher border controls. There is also supporting evidence that crime in Denmark is on the rise. The public at large is worried, and many are open to re-instating border control.

The problem remains of how to address the issue of rising crime without falling into outright racism. It remains to be seen how Denmark will precede, what effect this will have on the EU, and the future of the Schengen agreement.

[1] The Schengen treaty allows passport-free travel through 25 nations in Europe.


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         EasyExpat on

Denmark, most racist country in the world [Reply]

They may have been good during WWII but if there were a Hitler today he would be born in Denmark.

Mark     23 May 2011, 00:15


Mark> I worked in Denmark, Copenhagen and I have never seen any problem. People are nice and I don't think you'll have more racism than in other European countries, let say France or Italy....

  Cyril     23 May 2011, 13:54