Border Barbs: Danish Populists Have Harsh Words for German Critics

European Union members have heavily criticized Denmark's recent decision to reinstate border controls, with Germany leading the pack. One politician even suggested a boycott of the nation. But the right-wing populist party behind the controversial measures refuses to back down, and its anti-German rhetoric has grown increasingly acerbic.

Germany's fears of nationalism are due to its Nazi past, Danish populists allege. Zoom
REUTERS

Germany's fears of nationalism are due to its Nazi past, Danish populists allege.

When it comes to love of country and national pride, the Danish People's Party (DF), won't allow itself to be outdone. "Your country, your choice, my world begins here," the parliamentarians sing in what they call a "patriotic" tune on their website. As lead singer, tall, blond parliamentarian Kim Christianson sets the tone. "Big and small, we must all fight for what we believe in," he belts out.

But the right-wing populist Danish party's beliefs are currently damaging the country's relationship with the European Union -- and neighboring Germany in particular. The anti-immigration party managed to get the reintroduction of border controls passed by demanding the new policy in exchange for its support for the government's 2020 budget reform plan. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen's center-right government, which does not have the majority, would likely collapse without DF's support.

But many politicians within the EU argue that the new customs checkpoints, erected last week along the country's borders with Germany and Sweden, are a violation of the Schengen Agreement, which established border-free travel in Europe in 1985.

Copenhagen aims to fight cross-border crime and illegal immigration with random checks at its borders, but critics have alleged that the measures are largely symbolic and put European solidarity at risk. Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a European parliamentarian for the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) from the German state of Hesse, went as far as suggesting that Germans should boycott Denmark on their summer vacations.

'Carving Away at the European Idea'

"Freedom of travel is one of Europe's most visible achievements," he told the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last week. "Those who assail it ... are carving away at the European idea."

Such verbal attacks have reportedly enraged the DF. Though the party has toned down its rhetoric slightly, no longer bringing up "controls on land, water and in the air" to block illegal immigration, as party co-founder and leader Pia Kjaersgaard has aggressively declared, party criticism of Berlin and Brussels has taken on an unusually aggressive tone.

"All of the ideological guns are pointed at us," Kjaersgaard cursed last week. "Germany is playing the role of bad cop -- it has mustered all the ministers and ambassadors it can find in the attack on Denmark."

Meanwhile, senior German Foreign Ministry official Werner Hoyer and German Ambassador to Denmark Michael Zenner have criticized the country's approach as a playing "with the fire of nationalism," a characterization vehemently rejected by the DF.

Kjaersgaard said the choice of words had been odd "for a German ambassador whose own country has already offered emotive nationalism, with dismal consequences," Kjaersgaard said.

Her parliamentary group colleague and pastor Jesper Langballe agreed. Germany is a "neurotic nation" and is constantly pursued by the shadows of its past, he said last week. In a "desperate attempt to repress the Nazi era," Berlin is using the European Union as a "supranational monster" attempting to "play fireman against the flames of nationalism," he added.

-- SPIEGEL staff; translated from the German

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The Schengen Agreement
In 1985, the Schengen Agreement paved the way for taking down barriers at border controls between Germany, France and the three Benelux countries -- Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. At the same time, it obligated these countries to better protect their external borders.

Signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, it would take until 1995 for the treaty to bring down border gates for good.

Today 25 countries have signed on to the agreement. Even non-European Union members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are within the Schengen Area. Bulgaria and Romania would also like to join, but have so far failed to meet the requirements. Schengen membership forbids systematic border controls. While random checks are allowed, anyone with the correct identification will still be allowed to freely cross borders within the area. Under current rules, Exceptions are permitted only when countries feel their domestic security is threatened. France made use of this rule during the NATO summit in 2009 to conduct controls along the German border to prevent violent demonstrators from accessing the event. Major state visits, high-level meetings among politicians and large sporting events have also prompted temporary border controls in some nations.

But it is not just EU citizens who have enjoyed unprecedented freedom of travel in Europe since the Schengen Agreement was signed. Citizens of other countries with a valid Schengen visa also profit. But if their visa expires, they are required to leave.

More than 400 million people live inside the Schengen zone, which has land borders measuring more than 7,700 kilometers (4,784 miles) in length and sea coast of some 42,700 kilometers. Rules of the agreement are found in the Schengen Borders Code, which names the conditions under which countries can reinstate border controls. Both Italy and France have recently done so in reaction to the flood of refugees coming from northern Africa following political uprisings there.

Under Article 23 of the Schengen Borders Code, a member can reintroduce controls at inner EU borders "in the event of a serious threat to public order or national security" for a limited time period of 30 days or as long as the threat continues. These security measures must remain in accordance with the code, though. Article 24 requires countries that feel this may be necessary to inform the European Commission and other member states of their reasons for doing so.


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