John W. Miller, Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2011
The Danish government said Wednesday it would reinstate guards along borders with Sweden and Germany and conduct spot checks designed to fight crime and illegal migration. Although the move falls short of full reinstatement of border controls, it is the latest in a series of small steps reversing hassle-free travel across European Union frontiers.
The move was made for domestic political reasons–to satisfy a party in the ruling coalition that is skeptical about immigration–but it is a sign that opinion in Europe about open borders is changing following fears about unemployment and increased migration from tumultuous North Africa.
Worries about immigration have been mainly concentrated in Italy and France, which have received the majority of a recent influx of 25,000 North Africans, mainly Tunisians, who left the country when the dictatorial regime collapsed and was no longer able to enforce its own borders. The two countries have demanded the EU changes its rules to allow them to restore some border controls.
Home-affairs ministers from the EU’s 27 countries are meeting Thursday to discuss a proposal floated last week by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, suggesting a revamp of the bloc’s migration policies.
The ideas, which will be voted on at a summit of EU leaders on June 24, includes widening the circumstances under which countries would be allowed to temporarily reinstate border controls. The Schengen agreement on lifting border controls, signed in 1985, allows countries occasional spot checks for reasons of national security.
In Denmark, the issue of tighter border control has become a political bargaining chip. The governing center-right minority government, which consists of a coalition between the Conservatives and liberal-right party Venstre, wants to raise the retirement age, cut retirement benefits and enact other austerity measures. In exchange for signing off on the deal, the right-leaning Danish People’s Party has demanded the new border controls.
“Denmark should be a safe country, and we will do all it takes to fight the rise in cross-border crime committed in within our borders,” Mr. Barfoed [Justice Minister Lars Barfoed, of the Conservatives] said, adding that the government has ensured that the tighter border control is carried out within the framework of the Schengen agreement and won’t “impede the free crossing of borders by citizens and businesses.”
Justice Minister Lars Barfoed, of the Conservatives
The Schengen zone includes 22 EU countries and three from outside the EU. Other countries in the zone, such as Sweden, Norway and France, already carry out spot checks, said Marlene Wind, a professor at Copenhagen University.
Wednesday’s announcement was “just oversold to cater to the electorate of Danish People’s Party,” she said. “Unfortunately, it also sends a signal to the outside world that Denmark is a small provincial village that wants to be left alone.”