Danish lawmakers approve border controls

AP News
Posted: Jul 01, 2011 8:48 AM
Danish lawmakers approve border controls

Denmark on Friday approved a decision to re-establish permanent customs checkpoints at its borders, removing the last hurdle to a plan aimed at stopping crime and illegal immigration but which has been strongly criticized in Europe as violating visa-free travel rules.

The 17-member parliamentary Finance Committee announced the approval after lawmakers voted to reject an opposition motion to abandon it.

Germany and the European Union say border checkpoints violate EU rules on unrestricted travel in the Schengen zone and regulations on free movement within the bloc. In Denmark, opponents say it is a sop to nationalists, business organizations fear it will harm Danish exports and locals envision long lines of cars waiting to cross borders.

The new controls being introduced over several years include new customs buildings at crossings, lower speed limits at checkpoints and new equipment for reading license plates of passing vehicles.

Danish officials expect to have 98 additional customs offiers at crossing points. On Tuesday, about 50 of them will join the country's 142-man force at the borders with Germany and Sweden.

The government has insisted that customs checks will be random and will not include checking passports.

It has said the plan would not violate any rules and that it will work closely with the EU head office in Brussels. The EU is concerned that the plan will send out a wrong signal at a time when European nations are bickering over both borders and currency.

The finance committee that approved the decision is controlled by the center-right government and its ally, the nationalist Danish People's Party, which had been pushing for the plan.

The opposition has vowed to make changes to the plan if it wins elections that have to be held before Nov. 12. The opposition has been leading in opinion pools in recent months.

"The plan is useless, expensive," said Anders Samuelsen, chairman of Liberal Alliance, a small center party. "It is a waste of the taxpayers' money and a hindrance to Danish businesses."

The Schengen zone, considered one of the cornerstones of European unity, was created in 1985. Border controls were abolished and replaced by random customs and police checks. Today, it has grown to 25 nations.

When Denmark joined the Schengen zone in 1991, border barriers, control stations and uniformed officers were removed.