Daily Israel Report

Denmark Deals Another Blow to Borderless Europe

If the French action on the Italian border could be excused as an emergency, Denmark's decision to reimpose border controls challenges the EU.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 5/16/2011, 9:11 PM / Last Update: 5/16/2011, 9:55 PM

 Denmark's partial reinstatement of border controls on the crossing from Germany and Sweden (by bridge) have probably disturbed the European commission more than the similar restrictions that France imposed on its border with Italy following the unrest in North Africa. In the French case, one could define the issue as a temporary emergency and even, with a stretch, find a legal basis in the Schengen treaty.

Denmark currently insists that it will carry out spot checks of cars and passports by stationing customs officers and video crammer at the borders.  This presents a different sort of a challenge because it smacks of permanence. This is what the European Commission meant when its head, Jose Barroso, wrote Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen that the Danish plans contravened Denmark's commitments to the union. He said they were being done in an "intensive and permanent" way.

Cecilia Malmstrom, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, was also worried about the "permanent and visible customs control at all Danish borders". The commission threatens action against Denmark if upon review it emerges that Denmark flouted the EU rules.

In addition to being permanent ,the Danish measures are unilateral. They also appear to be the price that the coalition is paying to the Danish People's party.  This Eurosceptic party has scored an electoral breakthrough, allowing it to influence coalitions or act as a political deterrent even when outside the coalition. A similar situation exists in kindred parties in Sweden and Finland.

Denmark has replied that it needs the re-imposition of border controls to check crime. It said that the European Union could no longer take an ostrich-like approach to the shortcomings of open frontiers. Denmark received support from Italy that has recently chafed about Brussels' indifference to Italy's refugee problems. A member of Silvio Berlusconi's People's Freedom Party claims "we are trying to work a solution out by ourselves because there is no burden sharing."

Another headache for the commission is that the Danish measures at least according to the Danish People's Party are directed against Eastern Europeans accused of drug smuggling and illegal immigration. The Danish position is that these are anticrime measures and not compulsory passport checks as not every person passing through is stopped.

Although is not formally part of the EU, Switzerland had adopted the Schengen scheme of open borders. Now, however, billionaire Christoph Blocher of the Swiss People's party on the right wants his country to reimpose border controls as a way of dampening down immigration to Switzerland, which he regards as too high.

The Euro and the Schengen Agreement are the most visible landmarks of European unity. Both are currently under assault . If one of them is breached it would represent a severe loss of prestige for the EU. If both were to succumb the damage could prove incalculable.