Denmark denies reintroducing EU passport checks
Denmark defended Thursday its decision to reintroduce controls at its borders with Germany and Sweden, denying that it was restoring passport checks within Europe's open internal borders.
As European interior ministers gathered for immigration talks in Brussels, Danish Integration Minister Soren Pind said his government's decision to deploy permanent customs officers was aimed at stopping cross-border crime.
"I see a lot of drama in the European press but I am going to state things like they are," Pind told reporters, insisting that Europe's Schengen open borders agreement permitted such actions.
"I think that when this model is studied carefully, everyone will see that it is, if I may quote Shakespeare, much ado about nothing," he said.
He stressed that Danish authorities were deployed as customs agents, not border police, and that their job will be to scan vehicles for any criminal activities. "This has nothing to do with personal passport controls," he said.
Pind said the ministers would have to discuss the "dark sides" of having open borders, which he described as cross-border crimes like drug trafficking.
Following an agreement between the government and the far-right, Denmark announced Wednesday that the new controls would enter into force within two to three weeks.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said his government was "a bit surprised" by the Danish move and would listen to Pind's explanation.
"Until now I did not receive official information about the reason, the cause and the extent of the controls," Friedrich said.
Faced with a wave of migrants fleeing unrest in north Africa, EU ministers met to discuss a European Commission proposal to allow the temporary return of border guards in the case of sudden surges in migration, or should an EU country fail to control its frontier with non-EU nations.
"We don't want to bring back the borders," Pind said.
"We are all for a free Europe but strong customs control is not in discordance with Schengen and is actually a vital part of fighting cross-border crime," he said.
© 2011 AFP