German minister seeks holiday boycott of Denmark

 

DENMARK DISMISSED claims yesterday that it had “taken an axe to the European idea” by beefing up customs controls on its borders with Germany and Sweden.

The Danish authorities are doubling to 260 the number of customs officers patrolling its border and conducting spot checks on vehicles.

The Danes say the move, ostensibly to fight organised crime, human trafficking and the drugs trade, is in line with EU law.

European Commission officials said they were monitoring closely whether the measures met Schengen open borders rules.

In Germany, many regional politicians reacted negatively to the Danish decision.

“If Denmark is introducing border controls again during the holiday season, I can only suggest that people turn right around and holiday in Austria or Poland instead,” said Jörg-Uwe Hahn, minister for Europe in the state of Hesse, to tabloid newspaper Bild.

He described freedom of travel as “one of the most visible achievements of Europe. Whoever makes a mistake here, particularly in the holiday season, is taking an axe to the European idea”.

Politicians in northern German states appealed for calm yesterday, expressing hope that the border checks would not be heavy-handed and that barriers would not be reintroduced.

“Even if the reintroduction of border checks is not pretty, we shouldn’t lose the run of ourselves,” said Jost de Jager, minister for economic affairs in Schleswig-Holstein, which shares a border with Denmark. Crossing the border yesterday, he said he had noticed no change. “I want to be a good neighbour and will avoid all populism.”

Mr Hahn’s remarks were picked up by the Danish media yesterday, prompting a swift response from Danish politicians.

“Denmark is a firm believer in open borders,” said foreign minister Lené Espersen. “What we have here is a customs effort.”

Other Danish politicians were more outspoken, with Soeren Espersen of the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party calling Mr Hahn “an extremist”.

“I get chills when someone talks about the EU like a religion,” said Mr Espersen.

The Eurosceptic party insisted on new border checks as its price for continued support for the minority Danish government.

The number of customs officers looking for money laundering and weapons shipments on the border with Germany will be increased by a third to 90.

An extra 20 officers will be assigned to Danish borders with Sweden. From 2014 new border huts and licence-plate scanners will be erected.