The European Commission has strongly warned against plans by Copenhagen to introduce controls at its ports and airports, the EU executive announced.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokesperson to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said on 13 May that the Commission had received an assessment from its legal services over the measures announced by Denmark to re-introduce visible border controls (see 'Background').
The assessment raised "doubts" as to whether the move was in line with the country's legal obligations, she stressed.
The Commission president was writing a letter to the Danish prime minister in which the EU executive's concerns would be clearly formulated, she said.
The two leaders held a telephone exchange on the initiative of Brussels, Hansen added, saying the letter would be made public as soon as it had been sent.
Such transparency would mark a difference with the Commission's handling of similar crises in the recent past. In the border row between France and Italy, no internal correspondence had been made public.
But Hansen indicated that there were substantial differences between the two situations, with the Danish case involving the free movement of goods.
There is a clear difference between the free movement of persons and movement of goods, she stressed. While the Schengen agreement allows the re-introduction of border controls under strict conditions, re-instating customs controls of the free movement of goods is not possible under EU law, she explained.
By reintroducing border controls allegedly to fight crime, the Danish government caved in to the demands of the Danish People's Party, a populist and anti-immigration party that has been holding up approval of its 2020 economic plan.
Resisting populist pressure
In a recent speech before the European Parliament, Barroso warned of rising nationalism and populism undermining the Union.
Asked by EURACTIV, Ahrenkilde Hansen said that indeed, this was a clear example of what the Commission president had been referring to in a "more general" context.
"We know that it is now fashionable in some quarters to be extremist or populist or even to wave sometimes the flags of xenophobia. This in not what we are going to do. We will resist all these kinds of pressure," Barroso told the European Parliament last week.
In the meantime, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström published a statement expressing concern at the announcement by the Danish government of its intention to establish "a permanent and visible customs control at all Danish borders".
Malmström writes that the Commission will ask for information about the legal basis for the envisaged checks, the sources of information on which they will be carried out, and whether they will be part of wider measures to combat crime in Denmark.
"I call on the Danish government to refrain from taking unilateral steps and to make sure that any measures taken are in line with the relevant law. The Commission stands ready to continue the dialogue with Denmark. But it will, if needed, use the tools at its disposal to guarantee the respect of EU law," Malmström warned.