24th Oct 2016

Danish immigration law under fire after EU court ruling

A recent EU court immigration ruling is causing headaches for the Danish centre-right government and may deliver a blow to the country's immigration policies, which are amongst the most restrictive in Europe.

The European Union's highest court ruled last Friday (25 July) in a case of four couples living in Ireland that spouses of EU citizens who are not themselves EU citizens can not be prevented from living in the Republic.

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  • In the wake of the ruling, on Monday, a number of couples turned up at the Danish Ministry for Integration in Copenhagen demanding a review of the ministry's rejection of their applications to settle as couples in Denmark. (Photo: EUobserver)

Previously, under Irish law, a spouse from outside the European Union must have lived in another member state first in order to win residency rights. However the court ruled that this is in breach of EU law on the free movement of citizens.

Inspired by the new EU ruling, a number of couples turned up on Monday (28 July) at the Danish Ministry for Integration in Copenhagen demanding a review of the ministry's rejection of their applications to settle as couples in Denmark.

Having been denied residence in Denmark, many such couples settle in the city of Malmo in Sweden, about half an hour's drive from Copenhagen, as Sweden has less restrictive immigration laws.

The Danish parliament's ombudsman earlier in the summer announced an investigation into whether the Danish Immigration Service had misinformed individuals inquiring about regulations on the settling of foreign spouses in Denmark.

Danish newspapers are further reporting that a Danish common knowledge test for immigrants may also not be in line with EU rules.

In reaction, the Danish minister in charge of immigration, Birthe Ronn Hornbech, has now announced a review of the entire system of immigration in the country.

"The government must tell the EU system that it was a prerequisite for Danish EU membership to be able to run our immigration policies independently," said the spokesperson on EU affairs of the right-wing Danish Peoples Party, Morten Messerchmidt, on Danish Radio.

The Liberal-Conservative minority government depends on the support of his party.

Mr Messerchmidt suggested immigration should be covered by a Danish general exemption from EU justice policies, while legal experts have stated that the fundamental principle of free movement of citizens in the EU would supercede this.

Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published a comment on Tuesday (29 July) arguing that the EU court is doing the job of elected politicians.

"This practice is a democratic problem", wrote Ralf Pittelkow, adviser to former Social Democratic Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen.

"The judges are crafting a lot of policies because the politicians allow them the margin to do so. Political decisions that ought to be the responsibility of elected representatives are left with the court".

Despite strict immigration practices, the number of residence permits in Denmark has almost doubled in five years - from 33,363 in 2002 to 58,569 in 2007, according to figures from the Danish Immigration Service.

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