In a move that shocked European Union officials, Denmark, citing the need to fight organized crime, unilaterally reintroduced border controls on its land borders with Germany and Sweden on Wednesday. The Danish decision chips away at one of the central principles (and privileges) at the center of the project of the European Union, namely, the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital.
This principle is put into practice by the Schengen Agreement, which applies to 22 European Union countries as well as four others: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. (De facto, it also applies to Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican.) Within this enormous territory, across many national borders, there are no border controls whatsoever.
The Danish government has argued that this decision applies only to border and customs checks and will not extend to passport control, and that it is therefore not a violation of the Schengen Agreement. This argument disingenuously ignores the fact that the border checks will be performed by border control officers who do not have the clearance to act as standard police officers. However this policy change is couched, it amounts to a disengagement with the principles of the Schengen Agreement.
There are also signs that the free movement principle is on the brink of being rethought. At a meeting of EU interior ministers yesterday, several ministers stated their growing willingness to consider rescinding elements of the Schengen Agreement. This movement, spearheaded by the Italian and French foreign ministers, is a response to expectations of a major influx of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East in the coming months.
As it currently stands, EU countries are permitted to introduce border controls in response to discrete events deemed to demand greater security measures. A number of EU countries (Spain, Germany, France, and Finland, among others) have done so at various points over the past decade, but only temporarily.
In the meantime, border control has returned to the Schengen Area. Tourists entering Denmark by land from Germany or Sweden can fairly expect some new scrutiny as long as these checks are enforced.
[Image: Flickr | celesteh]