FECL 49 (December 1996/January 1997):

DENMARK JOINS ‘SCHENGEN’

On 19 December 1996 the Danish Minister of Justice, Bjoern Westh, on behalf of the Danish Government, signed the Schengen Implementing Convention of 1990, thereby ending a seven month period in which Denmark had observer status. The ratification process will begin shortly and is expected to be concluded by the end of this year.

Danish membership of Schengen is supported by the Social Democratic Party, the Social Liberals, the Liberal Party, the Conservative People’s Party and the Centre Democrats. This is a majority of the parties represented in the Folketing (Danish parliament).

The opposition, which is deeply divided in its arguments, consists of both parties to the left - Enhedslisten (the Red-Green Alliance) and Socialistisk Folkeparti (The Socialist People’s Party) - and to the right - Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) and Fremskridtspartiet (Progress Party).

 

The Danish way into Schengen

The idea of joining the Schengen Group was first taken up in the beginning of 1991, and the first meeting between the Schengen presidency and Denmark took place in May of that year. At that time, Denmark had a Conservative-led right wing government. But in January 1993 that government fell and was replaced by a Social Democratic-led centrist government. The previous political reservations against joining Schengen, which until then had found some resonance also inside the Social Democratic Party, gradually disintegrated, leaving only the left and the extreme right in the opposition. In May 1994 Denmark applied for observer status in Schengen. This was accorded in May 1996, after the Danish Government answered a comprehensive Schengen questionnaire on Denmark’s immigration, police and border control policies to the satisfaction of the Schengen Group.

The act of accession consists of an agreement, a so-called final act, a protocol, and a statement, which all define the conditions and responsibilities of the Danish government and its institutions. These documents and the Schengen acquis1) constitute the basis of the Danish membership.

 

Pressure from major EU countries

There is no question that one of the reasons why the Danish government decided to work towards Schengen membership was pressure from the major EU countries. As long ago as 1991, a representative of the then German Schengen presidency, Dr Glatzel, said in an interview about the reasons why the presidency had approached the Danish government: "We would very much like Denmark to join Schengen, and since Spain and Portugal are now joining, you are among the last in the chain to have your borders closed"2).

At that time, Greece was on its way to membership. With Denmark inside Schengen, all continental EU countries would be part of Schengen. Such a situation would make it possible to put pressure on the negotiations on the External Borders Convention, which had started in 1989 but were and still are blocked because of a Spanish-British dispute over Gibraltar. In this situation, the Schengen process was considered a powerful engine to speed up the process and reach the same goal as the European Union, but faster. This was however never mentioned openly as a reason by the pro-Schengen lobby.

 

The political scene

The two main arguments of the proponents of membership was that Schengen would make it easier to fight international organised crime and that it would become easier to travel. Furthermore they argued that an "open Europe" would attract illegal immigrants and that therefore strong external border controls and internal control measures were necessary. The critics among politicians are divided into two categories: a nationalist wing and a civil libertarian wing.

The criticism from the nationalist wing concentrates particularly on the lifting of internal border controls, which is perceived as opening of the country to a mass influx of "undesirable" foreigners - i.e. asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. But the nationalists are also worried about the protection of the Danish nation as such. This viewpoint is held by the Danish People’s Party and the Progress Party.

Part of the broad anti-EU movement (which covers the whole political spectrum from right to left) also subscribed to this point of view, but from a distinctly nationalist point of view. They argue that by joining Schengen another step is taken towards the elimination of Denmark as an independent nation.

The civil libertarian wing which mainly consists of the Left wing and concerned lawyers, researchers, parts of the anti-EU movement and human rights organisations, argues that Schengen will lead in direction of a more police-controlled society with clear racist tendencies. Their criticism has focused around the powers which the police and intelligence services will get. Also the creation of computerised registers and information systems (SIS and SIRENE) is viewed as a threat to the rights of the individual and as an expression of a generalised suspicion of, not least, "foreigners".

 

Opposition inside the police

The Danish police are also divided on the issue. The chiefs are very pro-Schengen, but the Police Union warns against lifting border controls, stressing that border checks make it possible to catch criminals in a way that cannot be replaced by stepping up general control inside the country.

The deputy chairman of the Danish Police Union, Peter Ibsen, said: "Open borders means that we deprive ourselves of some of the means of control we have today. It does not entail any saving of resources, but control will be less effective. No doubt about that".3)

Ibsen is also worried about the consequences of the Schengen Information System (SIS) which, he fears, will end up containing highly sensitive information based on "hearsay about people who are assumed to be doing something illegal".4)

The police leadership does not appear to have the same concerns. The Chief of Rikspolitiet (the National Police) says: "It is absolutely necessary that we get some of the more advanced investigation methods, in order to be able to hit organised crime. For this purpose SIS is a good tool".5)

A less frequently admitted reason for the Police Union’s opposition is there fear that the net result of Schengen membership will be a cut in the number of police officers. The government has, however, promised that there will not be any major reductions of the police force in areas close to the internal borders.

The irony of the pro-Schengen wing’s arguments is the strange contradiction between, on the one hand, the promise that it will become easier to cross the borders, and on the other hand their plans for more police control just behind the borders. In a note to the parliament the government explains the consequence of the abolition of checks at internal border crossing points as follows: "There ought to be a not insignificant police reserve in the areas near the internal borders (...) with the purpose of direct control, and patrolling and observation activities".6)

According to a bilateral German-Danish agreement on cross-border police observation and hot pursuit under the Schengen Implementing Convention, the right of the German police to operate on Danish territory is limited to a 25 kilometre deep zone behind the Danish border, and German police are not allowed to make arrests on Danish territory. No such restrictions are made by the German side: Danish police are authorised to operate freely on the whole territory of Germany.

Mads Bruun Pedersen (Copenhagen)

 

Notes:
1) The Schengen "acquis" consists of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, the 1990 Implementing Convention, four confidential manuals, the readmission agreement with Poland, the accession agreements with Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Austria, plus 59 decisions taken by the Executive Committee between 1993 and 1996.
2) Ugeavisen Klassekampen, no.24, vol.22, 28.6.91.
3) Berlingske Tidende, 20.12.96.
4) ibid.
5) Berlingske Tidende, 19.12.96.
6) Note on the Schengen Convention and the legal, financial and administrative consequences of Danish Schengen membership, 21.11.96, p.8.