Suspending Schengen sparks debate

On the eve of a meeting at which the interior ministers of the EU are to discuss reforming the agreement on the free movement of people, Denmark announced on May 11 its intention to reinstate permanent controls at its borders with its European neighbours by early June.

Published on 12 May 2011 at 14:26

Under the Schengen Agreement, Copenhagen cannot reinstate border controls as they once were, but may post customs officers at the border to carry out random vehicle checks. These checks are to be concentrated in ports, airports, trains, on the bridge that links Denmark to Sweden across the Oresund, and at the German border. The decision has provoked many reactions in Europe, beginning with the Danish press.

This measure is “contrary to the Danish spirit”, writes Jyllands-Postenin its editorial. The newspaper says it is the result of an agreement sealed between the Liberal-Conservative government and the Danish People’s Party (DF, far right populist). “Even if the DF is trying to play down the decision as an attempt to prevent beggars and criminals from entering the country and to help fight drug trafficking, the fact that there will once again be border posts and customs officials and police at the borders is a symbol of our refusal to accept that we are Europeans,” writes the newspaper, outraged. Jyllands-Posten also notes that the border controls are a barrier for many people in the region near Germany who cross the border to work. Far better, says the newspaper, would be strengthened cross-border police cooperation.

However,writes columnist Ralf Pittelkow “controls are to be limited” and should aim at providing “better control of weapons, drugs, smuggling, human trafficking, illegal immigration and criminals who want to get into Denmark”– a goal he describes as “reasonable” and impossible to achieve without border controls. Pitteklow calls the critics of the government “hysterical”, starting with those who denounce the “devastating” effects of reinstated controls or who imagine “long lines of lorries and desperate tourists” at the border. Likewise, “free movement within the EU would not be threatened, as trade, labour, capital, and travellers will hardly be affected.”

Taking an entirely different view, Giovanna Zincone, writing in La Stampa, draws a parallel between the attitudes of Europeans and those in the United States, where President Barack Obama, in a recent speech in El Paso on the Mexican border, said that his country “owes its position in the world to its ability to fuel its economic life with new talent and energy, and to immigration too.” The president reiterated his support of the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would grant citizenship to nearly 11 million illegal immigrants. “Today, Europe is afraid of immigrants,” writes Giovanna Zincone: “It is reluctant even to take in new, steady flows. Obama, in contrast, has shown openness, gratitude and trust. He has not forgotten the legal aspects, but he has not dramatised the situation, either […] He has spoken out because America knows it is a country of immigration and is proud of it. Europe, despite some hollow announcements, doesn’t want to accept it. And Europe is mistaken. In the last ten years the continent has surpassed the U.S. as a land of immigration.”

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