Border control in Kruså (Denmark). Despite the Schengen Agreement there are tests, like here on the Danish side of the German border near Kruså. Photo: Arne List
Is the Schengen agreement at risk? Or maybe all ready passé? It is at least for more than 15.000 commuters who now have to show their passport when they cross the border between Denmark and Germany.
Denmark just, again, chose to put the free movement on stand-by. Forced by the Swedish ID checks, argued the Danish government. But the fact is that the little Scandinavian country in the North now has an even cooler relationship to its two most essential trading partners, Sweden and Germany.
At midnight on the 4th of January Sweden introduced ID checks in the Oresund region, which led Denmark to temporarily reintroduce border controls at the Danish internal borders. The decision was made due to the measures set in place by its neighbouring countries and particularly the measures set in place by Sweden, explained the Danish Minister of integration, Inger Støjberg, in a statement to the European Commissioner, Avramopoulos.
“ As a consequence of these measures, Denmark is faced with a serious risk to public order and internal security because very large numbers of illegal immigrants might be stranded in the Copenhagen area within a short period of time,” wrote the minister in the statement.
Dear Commissioner Avramopoulos…
In the following days the Swedish government announced that Sweden would prolong the ID checks until the 20th of February and so the Danish Minister of integration Inger Støjberg, once again wrote a letter to commissioner Avramopoulos asking for permission to prolong the Danish temporarily border control until the 3rd of February.
But can that really hurt years of strong cooperation in the border region of Denmark and Germany? Of course not – but who sincerely believes that the European Union will agree on a fair allocation of the thousands of Syrian refugees so the border controls would be removed? The refugee and immigrant crisis will not be solved any time soon and nothing points at any European solution. So it seems that the temporary border controls will stay – at least as a tool the different countries once in a while will take out of the toolbox, resulting in large-scale damage for the border regions not only particularly between Denmark and Germany and Denmark and Sweden – but all over Europe.
Serious risk or a symbolic act?
During the first 10 days of temporary Danish border control only 200 people were rejected at the border, showed numbers published by the Danish police.
Nevertheless the Danish government advocated prolonging border control as they again were testing the good relationship between Denmark and Germany – and mostly the good integration in the region of Northern Germany and southern part of Denmark.
Commuters, travellers, and trade will continuously be hampered so it can seem a bit unclear for the people living in the border region of both Denmark and Germany why the Danish government wants to prolong the controls as only 200 people have been rejected. In addition the Danish police has made 31.000 checks since the beginning of the border control, which has extended the travel time for the around 15.000 people living and working cross border in either Denmark or Germany
As the head of the Regional office & Info Centre in the border town of Padborg, Peter Hansen said.
“People are really frustrated. I have already received a lot of emails from people working in Germany looking for other jobs. Because they fear that this border control will last for a long time and that would make it difficult for them to combine their work with their family life, he said to the Danish newspaper, Avisen.dk
The minister: It is worth the cost
And the damage to other sectors is yet to be seen. But it is worth the cost the minister of integration, Inger Støjberg, has repeatedly stated. A leading expert in the region disagrees and calls it for a symbolic act with great harm to follow for the region and the many years of intensive integration between the two countries.
“ It is very unfortunate for the good cross-border cooperation we have had with Germany for many years. And now that the Danish government has chosen to prolong the border controls, it can really hurt the region and our relationship with our largest trading partner,” Explains Gerd Battrup, from the Centre for border region studies from the University of southern Denmark.
70 per cent of Danish exports go over the Danish-German border and Jutland, Sealand and Schleswig-Holstein are very closely linked. So there is a very large integration.Approximately10-15,000 people commute across the border every day.
“A closed border would be really harmful for Southern Jutland and of course Schleswig-Holstein,” argues Gerd Battrup.
Photo: Arne List
The question then arises
Why is the Danish government willing to put at risk years of important and expensive investments in a region they now are about to paralyze by removing the key to the successful integration in the region?
Which is of course the free movement where people don’t have to show passport or other identification to cross the border. Where people can easily travel across the border and where the region is unified and borders don’t exist.
Head of research at the political Danish centre-right think tank CEPOS, Henrik Christoffersen argues that the government wants to show action.
“It is simply a top priority for them. Of course they also know that it is mostly symbolic – but it matters for their electorate”
That, combined with the fact that there is a continuous support in the Danish population of harsh integration policies. Recent polls from the research institute Gallup showed that 55 % are in favour of the new imposed border controls.
So it is not surprising that the Danish government has imposed the border controls.
But to prolong it now where the numbers are pretty clear seems rushed and without any rational reason. And even less reasonable-knowing what is at stake for the region.
The big masterplan
It is only one year ago that the Danish and the German governments agreed on what they called “A big Masterplan for the region” to continue the good collaboration between the two countries.
A plan that had its focus on creating more growth and closer collaboration in a region so vital for the local economy and with big minority groups in respectively the Schleswig-Holstein region and the southern part of Denmark.
In 2014 the Schleswig -Holstein region exported goods worth 1,46 billion Euros to Denmark – which is around 7,6 percent of the total export for the region. In addition on the import side Denmark is the most important and biggest trading partner with Germany receiving 2,64 billion Euro, recent figures from INTERREG show. INTERREG is the European regional development fund and also one of the biggest investors in the region also in charge of implementing the Danish-German INTERREG cooperation in the period 2014-2020 to promote growth and cooperation across the border supported by 89,9 million Euros.
A huge problem for Schleswig -Holstein – and Denmark as well
Neither German politicians, nor Danish regional politicians have shown enthusiasm at the prospect of tighter border controls. Already before Christmas Anke Spoorendonk who is Minister for Europe in the ”Landtag” of Schleswig-Holstein, warned about the possibility of increasing controls along the German-Danish border which she said would be ineffective in refugee policy and adversely affect the daily life in the border area. ‘For Germany a short-term border control is not a problem. For Northern Germany and especially for Schleswig-Holstein it is a huge problem, ”
She was one of the leading politicians in the Danish-German talks about increased cooperation years ago and she is proud of the many results – as she lists.
“Danish and German police have joint patrols to catch travelling criminals. The German ambulance helicopter saves lives in southern Jutland and brings casualties to hospitals in both Germany and Denmark. Students from Flensburg go to Southern University campus in Soenderborg to get a (Danish-German) education. We cross the border to enjoy each other’s culture. Germans go to Denmark to purchase food and Danish design. And Danes likewise to buy sweets and alcohol and so many other things. And they just do it because it is easy. But I fear that many will act differently with the reintroduced border control.
Even the Minister President of Schleswig Holsten, Torsten Albig, who normally would not comment on Danish politics, said that “this may affect the good coexistence in the German-Danish border, and would especially be a burden for commuters.”
Free movement is vital
And there is a reason why many politicians and stakeholders who have used years to build up the good collaboration in the region fear the imposed border controls. A report conducted by the MOT network which provides operational assistance to project stakeholders and, more generally, to cross-border territories” showed that one of the most important reason for foreign traders to invest in the region is the high level of education, skilled workforce, good social security, good infrastructure and mobility. Qualified workforce and mobility ranged as the two most important.
So it is fair to say that the whole branding strategy making the region interesting for foreign investor and SMEs are, with the border control – is at stake
And that goes for the border regions around Europe that are challenged and can set back years of development and progress.
From Norway to Sweden, France, Germany and Austria, the Commission has approved the temporary border controls – but it has also repeatedly stressed that the border should be only temporary as the free travel opportunities in Schengen are of utmost importance.
Let us then really hope – that temporary means for the time being only.