The World from Berlin 'Dividing Forces are Mounting in Europe'

European Union officials are outraged about Denmark's decision to restore border controls in violation of EU treaties. But a trend is emerging. German commentators worry that right-wing populism threatens to tear the EU apart.

Denmark's new border controls could signal a breakdown in European values, commentators warn.
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Denmark's new border controls could signal a breakdown in European values, commentators warn.


As southern Europe continues coping with refugees fleeing the unrest in Libya and Tunisia, a number of countries have become increasingly nervous about just what to do with them. Italy, which has borne much of the burden of what President Silvio Berlusconi called the "human tsunami," recently issued visas that allowed many refugees to travel into northern Europe when member states failed to help with the problem. Then Italy, France and other countries demanded revisions to the Schengen border-free travel agreement - a cornerstone of EU values.

But on Wednesday Denmark took the bold, unilateral step of reintroducing permanent border controls, claiming it was concerned about organized crime and illegal immigration. Behind the decision was the country's right-wing populist Danish People's Party (DPP), which leveraged a favorable vote on the center-right minority government's economic legislation to force the measure through.

Denmark isn't the only European country with powerful populist forces, though. Last month the right-wing populist True Finns party garnered one in five votes in Finland's national election. Since then the party has been working to block EU-friendly policies such as aid to Greece and Portugal. Meanwhile parties touting anti-immigrant, anti-Europe aims are gaining ground across the EU.

German commentators are alarmed, and many warn that a failure to recover support for the EU could spell its demise.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Right-wing populists are increasingly determining EU policy. While in Finland, the threat of a blockade on important EU questions by the True Finns seems to have passed, in Demark the right-wing Danish People's Party is celebrating a victory with the return to border controls. EU critics hope that this step will be the beginning of the end for borderless freedom of movement in the union. "

"For years, Danish parties have allowed themselves to be led by the right-wing populists, and immigration laws have been strengthened several times. Now the Danish People's Party has targeted the EU -- and not just the conservatives and the liberals have fallen to their knees, but also the social democrats and the socialist party. Denmark was once thought of as an open, liberal country. But that was in the past."

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Evidently too many criminals and refugees are coming into the country. But in reality, calculated domestic policy is carrying elementary European ideals to the grave. This is because there can be no compromise between a liberal political understanding that insists on the free movement of people, goods and services, and another grounded in sealing itself off."

"Until just a few weeks ago the European world seemed to be in order. The freedom of travel guaranteed by the Schengen Agreement was a functioning system and an enormously powerful symbol. Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi needlessly destroyed this peace when he allowed North African refugees to travel into other EU countries to encourage solidarity for his country's plight. Rome ignited a debate over Europe's borders that is no longer easy to escape. The European Commission has already announced it will reform the Schengen system. A cautious move, but it will still be changed. Blackmail as a means of applying political pressure appears to bear fruit in Europe."

"Nationalistic, egotistical politics is on the march in EU member states … As protector of EU treaties, the Commission must ... clearly condemn this."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"For years the European idea has been on political and moral overload without regard for people's yearning for a nation-state. While years ago it was common to accuse EU critics of being dim-witted, if not right-wing radicals, today this is hardly possible. This isn't just because large majorities of European voters are tired of the excessive demands (Marine Le Pen's popularity in France proves this), but also because the economic, finance and Schengen crises have destroyed one illusion after another."

"Simply put, neither open borders nor a common currency have led the countries to grow closer with one another. It's just the opposite. They insist on clinging to their national characteristics."

"What will be the result? The European idea is too valuable to allow its destruction. But that means creating a Europe in which Europeans want to live. Sometimes a step backwards can also be a step forward."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"EU optimists and euroskeptics are equal in their disappointment. One side complains that Europe doesn't speak with one voice and all too often falls into nationalistic micro-state discussions. For them, there isn't enough Europe. The other side feels that the EU threatens their sovereignty and is too bureaucratic, too uniformist. … Optimists and pessimists alike, along with normal citizens, are all missing one thing - a European feeling. The postwar generation and their children no longer fear Verdun or Marzabotto (eds. note: the Italian site of a World War II massacre perpetrated by the SS), so Europe is no longer a dream. A European identity has not developed. Instead thoughts have turned to shutting out what is doesn't belong in Europe."

"Today Europe is only a dream to those fleeing from places nearby where freedom and relative prosperity are not the norm. Of all things, it is exactly those who dream of Europe who are feared by Europeans who think the EU is a nightmare -- for example the Danish DPP and Hungary's neo-fascists. Reactionary nationalism is endangering Europe much more than indifference."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"What began as France's reaction to the current illegal immigration out of North Africa is manifesting itself in another form with our northern neighbours as defense measures against organized crime. An increasing number of governments are searching for possibilities to re-establish identity checks, at least temporarily. But if the entire Schengen system, which has been the core of the EU for more than a decade, is not to be dismantled or unhinged, then this must be an exception. The member countries must mutually agree on the exception, and not institute more controls at whim."

"Euroskepticism is spreading faster than many in Brussels and beyond want to believe. Simultaneously the monetary union is under threat. Solidarity is in order, and with gnashing of teeth, still guaranteed. The dividing forces are mounting in Europe."

-- Kristen Allen

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