Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Barroso to Copenhagen: border checks are illegal

  • Repopulating border barracks is illegal, says Barroso (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

One day after Berlin's angry reaction, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has warned Copenhagen that its decision to reinstate customs checks at borders is illegal under EU rules. The Danish government maintains the contrary.

Denmark's envisaged customs checks, video surveillance and beefed up police presence "appear to put in question the smooth functioning of Europe's single market and the benefits that an integrated area without internal borders brings for both businesses and citizens," the commission president wrote to the Danish Prime Minister on Friday (13 May).

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According to a first analysis done by the commission's legal services, Barroso writes, the Danish measures are illegal under EU law, which allows only random customs or police checks, under very limited and strict conditions, but by no means a permanent presence on the internal borders of the Schengen zone.

"I would encourage you to refrain from unilateral steps in this regard and to engage with the European Commission in an open dialogue prior to implementing any new measures, in order to make sure that such measures would be fully compatible with Denmark's obligation," Barroso stressed.

The letter ends with the indirect threat of legal action which the commission may consider if Denmark fails to live up to its commitments under the Schengen borders code, which is part of EU law.

His reaction was reinforced by a statement of home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who also said she was "concerned" by the Danish measures, which at a first glance seem illegal.

On Thursday, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the Danish government had to "give explanations" about these measures, while senior German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok warned of the "fragmentation of the EU" if the border-free area is no longer guaranteed. Interior affairs expert of the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, Hans-Peter Uhl, called the idea "crazy" and a concession to right-wing extremists.

Germany's largest automobile club and traffic-advising body warned car drivers on Thursday to take their ID with them when heading towards Denmark and to expect delays at the borders.

A Danish EU diplomat meanwhile told this website that his government has seen the Barroso letter but maintains that the measures are "in accordance with Schengen rules".

"We are ready to engage in constructive dialogue with the EU commission," the source said.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

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