Brussels Battles Against Return of Borders

Joshua Chaffin, Financial Times (London), May 12, 2011

Senior officials in Brussels have warned that populist-fuelled measures against immigration could open a Pandora’s box of new internal boundaries between European Union member states, undermining the free movement of people within the bloc.

A special meeting of interior ministers from across the EU saw calls for a Brussels veto on any moves to reinstate internal border controls by members of the Schengen group of 25 nations.

Concern about the future of the EU’s scheme for passport-free travel has been fuelled by steps in France, Italy and Denmark to crack down on the movement of migrants across their borders.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said on Thursday it “will not accept any attempt to roll back the EU treaty, either for free movement of goods or persons at internal borders”.

The EU tried to do away with such obstacles in its 1995 Schengen agreement for visa-free travel, which the bloc hails as one of its proudest achievements. Yet populist concerns about immigration, heightened by an economic crisis and the upheaval in north Africa, have given rise to new demands to strengthen internal and external borders across Europe.

Tensions have been highest in the EU’s Mediterranean member states, particularly France and Italy, to which most of an estimated 30,000 north African migrants have fled since January. Both countries have demanded the right to introduce temporary internal border controls.

Anti-immigration party holds sway

Denmark’s decision to reinstate customs checks along its borders with Germany and Sweden highlights the influence of the anti-immigration Danish People’s party as the country gears up for a general election, writes Andrew Ward.

The party demanded the measures in negotiations over economic policy with the centre-right Danish government, including pension reforms. The minority coalition relies on informal support from the Danish People’s party to pass legislation.

Denmark is one of several European countries to have had a surge in support for populist parties in recent years, amid concern over immigration and economic insecurity. In Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats party won its first seats in parliament last September, while True Finns, the anti-European Union party, saw support increase from 4 per cent to 19 per cent in the Finnish election last month.

The Danish government has faced criticism for working with the DPP, which won nearly 14 per cent of the vote at the last election in 2007, but its support has been crucial to centre-right control of parliament since 2001. Lars Lokke Rasmussen, prime minister and leader of the Liberal party, must call an election by mid-November, with polls showing a tight race with left-leaning opposition parties.

Denmark also reinstated guards and spot checks this week along its borders. Although Denmark is far from north Africa, its populist Danish People’s party pressed for the border crackdown as part of wider negotiations with the coalition government on economic reforms.

Søren Pind, Denmark’s interior minister, told reporters in Brussels that the new controls were purely for customs reasons, intended to prevent drugs, weapons and stolen property from entering the country. “This has been presented as though we are tightening person and passport controls, but this is not the case,” Mr Pind said on the sidelines of a special meeting of European interior ministers to discuss immigration issues. A Danish diplomat said the plan had been modelled on an existing customs regime in neighbouring Sweden and insisted it complied with Schengen rules.

But Commission officials expressed scepticism, particularly over Copenhagen’s intention to reinstall its old border infrastructure. “It all smells of checks on people,” said one. “People are seriously questioning what are the real motives here.”

Germany also criticised the plan. “Freedom of travel is too great an achievement to be sacrificed to domestic political considerations,” Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, warned Lene Espersen, his Danish counterpart. “It is far more than just a German-Danish question,” he said, referring to their common border. “It is a question of the freedom of European citizens.”

European diplomats have also been grappling with Greece’s inability to police its border with Turkey. That has stiffened opposition to Romania and Bulgaria, two new EU members plagued by corruption, joining Schengen.

Cecilia Malmström, justice commissioner, said: “We will not weaken Schengen in any way. This is one of the best things in Europe from a citizen’s point of view.”

One of the most contentious questions is whether member states should be required to win approval from Brussels before they can reinstitute internal borders. Under current rules, they can do so unilaterally for up to 30 days. But Ms Malmström has said there should be a commission role in such decisions. in the future. A majority of member states support that view, according to Sandor Pinter, Hungarian interior minister. But some, including Germany, opposed.

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  • Anonymous

    “It is a question of the freedom of European citizens.”

    Arabs, Muslims, Gypsys, Turks, Asians and Africans are the problem, not white European citizens.

  • Kenelm Digby

    It is very clear from that article that the EU is all about the destruction of national sovereignty and independence.

    The whole thrust of the argument seems to be that sovereignty somehow ‘belongs’ to the EU elitists, only to be grudgingly handed down from on high.

  • Anonymous

    Good news from Mother Europe

    EU countries scrap open borders to halt flood of Arab refugees By Daily Mail Reporter

    14th May 2011

    Many EU countries have voted to bring back passport control

    The European dream of a continent without borders appeared dead last night.

    A majority of EU countries voted to reimpose passport controls between countries – in response to fears they would be deluged by refugees from the revolutions in the Arab world.

    Fifteen out of the 22 EU countries who currently operate the Schengen Agreement said they would be in favour of its demise at a meeting of home affairs ministers in Brussels.

    The treaty, signed in 1985 in the Dutch town of Schengen, created a European area with no internal borders which covers more than 400million people in most EU countries, as well as four others outside the bloc – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

    Of the EU’s 27 members, 22 operate it. Britain and Ireland have opted out, while Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are preparing to implement it.

    The UK is not part of the system, but it could benefit from its end because the reimposition of passport controls could make it harder for illegal immigrants to find their way through Europe towards their final destination – Britain.

    Tory backbencher Philip Hollobone said: ‘It looks like the European dream of a continent without borders is going backwards.

    ‘This is a good thing – it makes more sense to reinstate national borders so we can properly control immigration and organised crime.

    ‘And it means it should be much harder for illegal immigrants to get as far as Calais.’

    At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, interior ministers agreed to a ‘radical revision’ of Schengen.

    The right-wing Swiss People’s Party has even hinted towards a withdrawl from the Schengen Treaty that allows free movement in Europe

    And they also agreed to combat immigration by pressing for ‘readmission accords’ with countries in the Middle East and North Africa to send refugees home.

    The policy shift was pushed by France and Italy, two core EU members, which have borne the brunt of the influx so far.

    The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has even hinted towards a withdrawl from the Schengen Treaty.

    The move would spark travel chaos for anybody trying to pass into or through Swizerland en route from Italy to France and Germany or vice versa.

    Only four countries opposed the scrapping of the agreement.

    Denmark has unilaterally decided to reinstate its borders with Sweden and Germany.

    This was criticised by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso yesterday.

    He said in a letter to the Danish prime minister that Copenhagen’s proposal was going too far and could break European treaty law.

    Tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Italy from Tunisia after the revolution there earlier this year.

    Most of them wanted to get to France, or perhaps beyond.

    The issue will be discussed at a summit of EU premiers next month.

    However, any changes would have to be passed by the European Parliament. The end to open borders would be a severe blow to the European ideal of free movement of citizens across the continent.

    It comes as another key element of the project – the euro – is under severe pressure, with Greece potentially having to leave the single currency.

    At the Brussels meeting, Home Secretary Theresa May ruled out any UK involvement in a common EU asylum policy to address a surge of immigrants from countries such as Tunisia and Libya.

    http://goo.gl/u5IQV

  • Allisio Rex

    It’s a good idea to reinstate border checks. Obviously, this move is not meant to stop real Europeans from freely moving from one EU Country to another. It should be implemented immediately.

  • Anonymous

    How could the European country leaders ever agree to a plan that opens up all of their countries for third world immigrants?

    They should all be tried for treason and dealt with appropriately and the European Union disbanded.

    Then of course the unpleasant task of “undoing” what has been allowed to occur over the past years.

    What a colossal mess.