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.”
Readers who might think that this is something to do with free trade (which is what these opening paragraphs appear to suggest) should understand that it is anything but. The issue, as the writer acknowledges later, is immigration. The Danes should stand firm. If round-the-clock border control is truly incompatible with the country’s supposed obligations under European law then it is time to tear up those obligations up.