Border row: Denmark gets a taste of its own medicine

Denmark’s decision to increase spot checks and immigration staff at its borders has ironically resulted in similar spot checks and increased surveillance on the country itself by the European Commission.

The international body released a statement on Monday 18th July announcing that, to ensure free movement under EU regulations is not violated, Denmark will be subjected to a “strict monitoring system”.

The first phase of Denmark’s so-called ‘permanent border control’ system was put in place on 5th July, when 50 additional customs agents were posted to land and sea borders. The move has come under widespread criticism from other European nations which are concerned that the Schengen Agreement, which ensures the free movement of goods and people between EU member states, is being undermined.

Eight European Commission delegation officials came to Denmark last week to investigate the details of the increased checks and the motivation behind them. The group attended two pre-scheduled appointments at borders with Sweden and Germany, but found they were unable to fully assess the situation as no Danish customs officers were present at the time. The Danish authorities say this backs up their claim that agents will not be a permanent presence.

European commissioner for home affairs, Cecillia Malmstorn, indicated that many questions still remain after the unsatisfactory visit. “In a first assessment the experts reported that they were unable to get sufficient justifications from the Danish side for the intensification of the controls at the internal borders,” she said in a statement.

“According to the experts, the risk assessment required to justify the controls was not sufficient and there were no clear instructions to border control officers on how to carry out controls,” Malmstrom added. “It is incumbent on Denmark to demonstrate factually that the gravity of the situation justifies putting in place controls which might affect the exercise of free movement of goods, services and persons at the internal borders with Germany and Sweden.”

“The result of the mission makes it even more necessary to establish a reinforced dialogue with the Danish authorities and to put in place a strict monitoring system based on regular information from the Danish authorities, not excluding further visits if necessary,” Malmstrom concluded.

Denmark plans to implement the second phase of its new system, which will include permanent customs plazas and traffic funnels, by 2014. Lene Espersen, the country’s foreign affairs minister, said they will do their best to quell concerns.

“We are in an ongoing discussion with the Commission right now,” Espersen said. “The most important thing is that we answer their questions, so that we can put our neighbours and the Commission at ease.”