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European Union

Denmark's reinforced borders irritate European neighbors

To keep their nationalist allies happy, the Danish government has increased the number of customs officers along the Danish border. The European Commission is concerned, and some Germans are calling for a boycott.

A border sign telling drivers they are entering Denmark

New checks have caused worries about the EU's openness

The new, intensified customs checks on the Denmark's borders have raised the ire of the country's big neighbor to the south. One German politician is even calling for a boycott on travel to Denmark.

"If Denmark reintroduces border controls during the summer travel season, I can only suggest that you turn back on the spot and take your vacation in Austria or Poland instead," said Jörg-Uwe Hahn, the minister for European affairs in the German state of Hesse, to the daily newspaper Bild.

"It would be a vote with your feet," he added, "to show the Danish government what you think of their policy."

One German Twitter user called for a boycott of a different kind. "I won't eat any smorrebrod [typical Danish open-faced sandwiches] until the wall falls," ReichelS wrote.

A customs officers stands on the Öresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden

As of Tuesday there are 50 new customs officials stationed at Denmark's borders

On Tuesday, 50 additional customs agents were assigned the task of keeping illegal goods and drugs out of Denmark. Thirty of them were deployed on the German border, 10 at ferry terminals serving boats from Germany, and 10 others at the Öresund bridge and Helsingor ferry terminal which connect Denmark to Sweden.

The 270-million-kroner (36-million-euro, $52-million) plan was approved by the Danish parliament on Friday, despite the opposition from abroad. The beefed-up border concept was introduced by the minority center-right government in May, under pressure from its far-right, nationalist ally, the Danish People's Party.

Against the rules?

"We are very critical of Denmark's decision to reestablish permanent customs checks at the border with Germany," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters after meeting with his Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen, in Berlin to discuss the topic.

"This could be the writing on the wall for freedom in Europe," he added.

As migrants have flooded into Europe in the wake of the unrest in North Africa some have questioned the sense of a borderless area

Concern about the new policy is not limited to Germany: the European Commission has also expressed its view that Denmark's new border checks could violate the right to free movement across internal European borders and the spirit of the Schengen treaty, which permits passport-free travel for citizens of member countries.

The European Commission has been in daily contact with Danish authorities, and according to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, it was following the issue closely.

"Denmark has assured the Commission that it has no intention to infringe EU law and that they are ready to cooperate with the Commission," she wrote on her blog. "If the Danish government proceeds with a proposal in breach with the EU law, we stand ready to take the necessary measures to protect the European values of free movement."

Checking goods, not people

As Malmstrom noted, Denmark has insisted that the border checks do not break Schengen rules because they do not involve the systematic checking of passports and any stops and inspections would be random as they have been up until this point.

"Denmark is a firm believer in open borders," Foreign Minister Esperson told the news agency AFP. "What we have here is a customs effort."

She added that Denmark "continues to be a country open to the world and a country that lives up to its international obligations."

Erling Andersen, the director of customs in Denmark, was at the German-Danish border on Tuesday. He said that traffic was flowing normally despite the spot checks.

Andersen also insisted that, as customs officers, his staff's actions were not governed by the Schengen agreement, but by other European agreements on the movement of goods.

The Schengen agreement, he said, is concerned with "passport controls and the controlling of persons. We customs officials don't control passports or people. We control illegal goods passing into Denmark."

Denmark, he added, had no intention of bringing back passport controls.

Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Michael Lawton

DW.DE