17th Mar 2018

Denmark to rebel on EU free borders if need be

  • Checks on Danish-German border already in place for over a year (Photo: ingolf)

Denmark has said it would defy the European Commission on border checks if need be, opening a new front in a wider rebellion on migration policy.

Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, told parliament on Tuesday (16 May) that the amount of people coming from Africa to Europe via Italy was “much, much too high” to reopen borders.

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  • Rasmussen put on the spot by anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (Photo: News Oresund)

“We will continue border controls unless the EU miraculously finds ways to regain control of its outer frontiers and Italy curbs the flow of refugees … into Europe”, he said.

He spoke after the Commission said on 2 May that Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden were permitted to extend border checks for a further six months, but that this would be the last time they were allowed to do so.

The five states are all members of the Schengen accord on free movement in Europe, which is enforced by the EU executive.

Rasmussen added on Tuesday that "as long as EU borders are not under control, we need to uphold our own controls”.

He said that his “own prognosis” was that “this is not a likely scenario in the next six months”.

"Nobody in my political neighbourhood is in favour of open borders to Africa, rather on the contrary … We introduced rules to protect Denmark with great success. That's why we now have the lowest number of asylum seekers in eight years,” the prime minister, who hails from the centre-right Venstre party, said.

He spoke in reply to a question from Kristian Thulesen Dahl, an MP from the anti-EU and anti-immigrant Danish People's Party which holds almost one in five seats in the Danish parliament.

Denmark’s neighbour, Sweden, lifted ID checks on a bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo two weeks ago, but it said at the time that it would intensify spot checks and CCTV surveillance at other crossing points.

“Border controls are still needed and need to be strengthened”, Anders Ygeman, its interior minister, said.

Italy numbers

Almost 13,000 people came to Italy via the central Mediterranean in April - a 19 percent increase on March and a 33 percent increase on April last year, according to EU border agency Frontex.

Most of them were from Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Ivory Coast, it said.

The numbers coming to Greece (1,200 in April) via Turkey have dropped massively after a Turkey-EU deal to keep Syrian refugees in place.

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration said 53,912 people came to the EU via Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain from 1 January to 14 May, compared to 189,075 last year.

It said 45,118 of them came via Italy compared to 32,292 last year and that at least 1,229 people drowned on that route, up from 966 last year.

Relocation dispute

The Danish statement on Tuesday came amid a bitter EU dispute over migrant relocations.

The Commission the same day warned countries such as Hungary and Poland that unless they started to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy by June then they would face legal action.

Hungary and Poland have taken in no one despite being outvoted in the EU Council on the burden-sharing quotas last year.

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo told press in Warsaw on Tuesday that there was “no possibility [for Poland] to take in any refugees - that’s the government’s position”.

“We are saying very clearly: There’s no agreement by the Polish government to have forcibly imposed refugee quotas”, she said.

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EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said EU rules that allow states to impose internal border checks are being reformed, with a proposal set to be announced.

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