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Denmark threatens to thwart EU open border policy

Video by Gaëlle Faure

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2011-05-12

Denmark has unilaterally decided to reintroduce border controls, as the surge of nationalist parties across Europe has swayed governments to reconsider the Schengen Agreement, one of the EU’s key achievements.

Denmark was on a collision course with the European Union on Thursday as it defended a plan to unilaterally enforce stricter border controls, a policy which reflects growing resentment across Europe toward the EU “open-border” policy.

"We see a rise in cross-border crime: drugs, east European gangs, human trafficking, money smuggling... And one of the efficient ways to fight this is border control," Danish Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said Wednesday on Danish television, adding that the enforcement measures would “be put in place as soon as possible.”

Denmark "not restoring passport checks"

Danish Integration Minister Soren Pind denied his country was resinstating passport checks, saying his government’s decision to deploy permanent customs officer was aimed at stopping cross-border crime.

Danish authorities have planned to invest over €20 million in more customs officers and advanced surveillance equipment to implement a new system of random checks of cars and passports at its borders with Germany and Sweden.

Hjort Frederiksen insisted that since the controls will be random they "will be within the framework of the Schengen system", referring to the unrestricted travel agreement that removed compulsory passport controls between many European countries more a decade ago.

Until recently, Schengen was touted as one of the main achievement of the EU 27-nation bloc, and Denmark’s move has raised eyebrows in Brussels.

"We would like to make it quite clear that the [European] Commission cannot accept and will not accept actions that are a step backward from the treaty on the European Union as regards free movement of goods and persons across internal borders," a Commission spokesman told a regular briefing on Thursday.

Ahead of an emergency EU meeting on the issue on Thursday - which had been scheduled before Denmark’s surprise move - Danish integration minister Soren Pind told reporters any stricter border policy would be meant only to curb trafficking of people and drugs.

The meeting in Brussels was held at the request of France and Italy in order to tackle the continent's struggle with a sudden surge in immigration resulting from the unrest in North Africa.

Nationalism checks EU agreement

From France to Finland, the resurgence of a nationalist discourse across Europe has prompted governments in the Schengen area to reconsider the agreement on unrestricted travel.

Nationalist parties say weak EU borders allow immigrants to illegally enter different countries and help them avoid capture and repatriation.

Denmark’s refusal to wait until after the EU meeting to announce that it would restore controls at its borders comes in the wake of sustained pressure from the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF).

The government of Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is in negotiations with the DF to try to secure approval of pension reforms, and analysts have said that the government was willing to accept stricter borders in exchange for support on increase the retirement age.

The government’s plans include scrapping early retirement option that now lets Danes stop working at age 60, and to bring forward an increase in the general retirement age from 65 to 67.

The stricter border policy is now expected to be approved by the Danish Parliament. However, the DF said on Thursday that the negotiations on the pension reform is far from being concluded.

The two sides "are still far from reaching the goal of agreeing on a retirement reform,” DF leader Pia Kjaersgaard told TV 2 News.

Denmark’s border control plan has been criticised by some pro-EU Danes who say their country should not be raising new barriers just months before it takes over the presidency of the EU at the beginning of 2012.

Date created : 2011-05-12

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