COPENHAGEN — Ten years ago, as Denmark joined the European Union’s visa-free open travel zone, the outraged Danish People’s Party bought a decommissioned border guardhouse, vowing that one day it would be in use again. Back then, most Danes dismissed the move as a colorful publicity stunt by the newly formed right-wing party.
But last month, the Danish People’s Party was doing a victory dance, offering to donate its picturesque brick guardhouse at the German border to the government. The party had achieved its goal: Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen had agreed to restore 24-hour customs control in exchange for support on a difficult budget package.
The deal set off an outcry in the European Union as tiny Denmark became the first member to seriously challenge the union’s crowning achievement: the free movement of goods and services across borders. Italy and France, wrangling over a huge influx of immigrants from North Africa, have been pushing for a lesser step — the ability to temporarily close borders in an emergency. This got the official nod of approval during a meeting of European leaders on Friday.
What will happen in Denmark remains less clear. The Danish Parliament has yet to ratify its border deal, and the union has issued a stern warning, saying Denmark’s plans are probably incompatible with its “obligations under European and international law.”