09 Nov 2011

A farewell to open borders? The Danish Approach

Peter Hobbing

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Migratory pressure from abroad and populist trends in Europe have already put considerable stress on borderless Europe, despite the open borders being one of its most precious achievements. But what in the past could be seen as annoying yet temporary disturbances attained an entirely different character under the Danish initiative launched in early May 2011. The move to install permanent controls, including customs houses and video surveillance, alarmed not just Brussels but also travellers and business associations EU-wide. Even though the new government has since banished the nightmare by repealing the border measures, one should still not sound the ‘all clear’ signal. With populist parties all over Europe, similar scenarios are likely to arise elsewhere. This paper therefore seeks to clarify a few basic elements to help counter future ‘plots’ against free movement more swiftly, namely that 1) the reintroduction of internal border controls violates EU treaty legislation, no matter whether the measures are based on Schengen or customs provisions; and 2) such border-based checks are highly inefficient compared with modern cross-border cooperation among law enforcement authorities.

Peter Hobbing is a former official of the European Commission (Justice & Home Affairs) and is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS.