The future presidency of the EU Council reestablishes border control

, by Quentin Boulanger

The future presidency of the EU Council reestablishes border control
The Danish flag Credit © European Union, 2011

Since the 5th of July, 50 additional customs officers have been sent by the Danish government to the border of Germany and Sweden. This reinforcement of border controls follows the deal made in May between the centre-right government and the Danish People Party. This decision, made over the holidays, triggered strong reactions from Danish neighbors.

Public security as the cause of this measure?

Even though the reinforcement of border control voted by the Folketing – the Danish Parliament – on the 1st of July is justified by the need to fight immigration and criminality, the circumstances cast doubt on the existence of an undeclared motivation.

We can’t deny that migratory pressure is particularly strong in Denmark, but the fight against illegal immigration might not be the most important decision for the government. The number of migrants arriving in Denmark, which has increased even more after the Arab Spring, can be explained by the fair response of the Danish authorities to asylum seekers. In fact, 48% of them are granted the status of refugee while the European average is of 27%.

Moreover, regarding the fight against criminality, two points have to be discussed. First, in talking about organized crime, it has already been shown numerous times that border controls have been inefficient. National measures can’t fight effectively cross-border criminality. As it was rightly written by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, “if the Danish had really wanted to protect themselves against organized crime, they could have chosen to put their money in European police cooperation rather than in the protection of every inch of their border.” On the other hand, if you’re talking about crime in a broader sense – as the Danish finance minister’s declaration in May suggested – the combination of immigration and criminality is dangerous and should be firmly condemned. Indeed, minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said that “we have seen too many examples of violence, break-ins and brutal criminality committed by perpetrators who have crossed the borders”.

An electoral aim?

This sentence from the Danish minister is a dangerous shortcut that explains the decision to reestablish border controls. The liberal-conservative coalition government is indeed in the middle of an electoral year and needs the support of the Danish People Party to rule until the elections and to have any hope to stay in office. Considering the composition of the Danish Parliament, the government is in the minority (together the 2 parties gather 64 seats while the big left parties have 68). The support of the Danish People Party, important because of this configuration, is even more so important since it is the 3rd party in the country. The decision to reestablish border control must thus be analyzed in light of this situation of electoral campaigns, where keeping the support of the extreme right might prove vital to liberals and conservatives . We are not minimizing the importance of immigration in Denmark but rather are noticing some implicit motivations of the government. Respecting fundamental rights such as the freedom to move does not seem to go hand in hand with certain political agendas.

What consequences for Denmark and the EU?

From an economic point of view, the opportunity and timing of the measure can be discussed. Indeed, tourism has an impact on the Danish economy that cannot be ignored. Despite the reassuring declarations from Danish authorities, Germans, for example, are obviously worried. The Vice-President of European Affairs, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, in the Land of Hesse, Germany, has even advised people not to go to Denmark in an interview given to the German newspaper Bild. Moreover, as said before, the real benefit of these controls has yet to be seen, whereas the cost is certainly apparent. Denmark also puts itself at risk vis-a-vis its neighbors who firmly criticized this decision. For example, the German minister for foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, said it was “a fateful warning for freedom in Europe”.

Actors at the European level didn’t stay indifferent either. The controls were denounced by MEP Jo Leinen, while the president of the Commission, Mr. Barroso, warned Denmark, questioning the conformity of the decision with European law. Mr. Barroso stated in front of the European Parliament, gathered in plenary session, that “freedom to move for goods, services and people, represents an essential element of the European construction granted by the treaties signed and ratified by all member States. Undermining freedom to move means putting in danger the internal market, putting in danger the solidarity between Europeans and putting in danger European projects”

National and European actors thus seem to be aware that measures of withdrawal like the one taken by Denmark put the European project itself at risk. But will actions follow words? It will be necessary if the EU wants to avoid contaminating other States of the Schengen area. It is now up to the EU to adopt a firm position and tell member States that they cannot use treaty conditions as an excuse to establish border control whenever they want. Just reasons must exist if border control must is the only way to deal with an issue. It should also belong to the EU and the European Court of Justice to control whether those two conditions are fulfilled. It is unacceptable for member states to call upon public order to justify limitations to the freedom to move.

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