Criticism of Danish border control move swells as vote looms
Denmark's plan to reinstall permanent controls at its borders triggered mounting criticism at home and abroad Thursday, a day before lawmakers were set to approve the move.
Germany, which shares a land border with Denmark, has been the most vocal critic, with Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich cautioning Thursday at EU talks in Luxembourg that, "We do not want to initiate a conflict with Denmark, but we will ask clear questions."
"We cannot accept that Schengen be undermined," he said, referring to the 26-nation Schengen border-free area, to which Denmark is a signatory.
Denmark's Justice Minister Lars Barfoed, also attending the Luxembourg talks, retorted that the reinstatement of controls would not undermine passport-free travel across the Schengen area.
"We want free passage of persons across the borders in the EU," he said. "We have no intention of undermining the Schengen convention at all."
"We will be just as open a country as we have been before," he added.
"People coming to Denmark will hardly notice that we have an enforced customs control. But of course if you are a smuggler of weapons or drugs, then you might have a problem."
Germany's ambassador to Denmark has also blasted the move, with Christoph Jessen telling the Jyllands-Posten daily that "If permanent controls are installed, cooperation will become more complicated... We should do everything to not hinder cooperation."
And also in Luxembourg, the EU's Home Affairs commissionner Cecilia Malmstroem raised the spectre of litigation by warning that the European Union executive would be watching events closely "as this will determine its reaction".
Denmark's centre-right government announced the plan last month under pressure from its far-right ally, the Danish People's Party.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament have also slammed the new restrictions saying they would harm freedom of movement.
Denmark's left-leaning opposition has condemned the move, and the Confederation of Danish Industry called Thursday for it to be revoked.
"The border agreement sends a completely wrong signal and can harm Danish companies in important markets," the confederation's head Karsten Dydvad said.
But with the backing of the government and the DPP the initiative is nonetheless expected to pass a vote in parliament's finance committee Friday.
If it passes, it could see travellers stopped by Danish customs officers within a matter of days in cases where there is a suspicion of cross-border criminal activity such as drug-trafficking.
Danish Treasury Minister Peter Christensen has tried to justify the move by claiming that a long line of other EU countries, including Germany, deploy a large number of customs officers along their borders.
On Wednesday, German ambassador Jessen rebutted that claim:
"I am not saying that German customs officers are never at the border, but they are almost never there... You cannot conclude from the number of customs officers that work in an area that the border is manned by that number of people."
Officials from Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Sweden also rejected Christensen's claim that their countries had permanent border controls, according to Jyllands-Posten.
The head of the far-right DPP in turn blasted the German ambassador's comments, saying "the borders of Denmark, border controls and the safety of borders and the kingdom are a national Danish question".
"It is certainly not anything German ambassador to Denmark Christoph Jessen should interfere with," Pia Kjaersgaard wrote in the broadsheet Politiken Thursday.
© 2011 AFP