Denmark launches disputed border customs plan

By Jan M. Olsen

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 5 2011 6:05 a.m. MDT

A truck passes a traffic sign at the border checkpoint between Flensburg, Germany and Ellund Denmark. in Ellund Tuesday July 5 2011. Denmark has started a controversial plan to boost customs checks on its borders, deploying 50 additional customs officers at crossings with Germany and Sweden. Denmark says the plan, approved by Parliament last week, is needed to fight border-hopping criminals and illegal immigrants inside Europe's visa-free Schengen travel zone. Germany has led the opposition to the Danish initiative, warning that it violates the spirit, if not the principles, of the Schengen agreement, which allows for the free movement of people and goods inside some 25 European nations.

Ibrahim Ot, AP Photo/dapd

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark on Tuesday started a controversial plan to boost customs checks on its borders, deploying 50 additional customs officers at crossings with Germany and Sweden.

Germany has led the opposition to the Danish initiative, warning that it violates the spirit, if not the principles, of Europe's visa-free Schengen agreement, which allows for the free movement of people and goods inside some 25 European nations.

Denmark says the new customs plan, approved by Parliament last week, is needed to fight border-hopping criminals and illegal immigrants inside the Schengen zone.

"We now get more staff and that enables us to make more random controls," Danish Tax and Customs Administration director Erling Andersen said.

The first car to be pulled over Tuesday by the eight customs officers sent to the Danish-German crossing at Froeslev, 167 miles (270 kilometers) southwest of Copenhagen, was driven by a Dutch woman.

Denmark's TV2 showed live footage of customs officers searching the car — surrounded by dozens of reporters. They found no drugs or weapons, just dog biscuits, potato chips and bread, and allowed the woman to enter Denmark.

In Germany, Hesse state lawmaker Joerg-Uwe Hahn told the top-selling Bild newspaper that travelers should not put up with the new measures.

"If Denmark reinstitutes border controls during holiday time, I can only advise turning around and taking a vacation in Austria or Poland instead," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Hans-Joachim Hacker said the reinstitution of border controls was "worthy of criticism" but that to call for a vacation boycott was "crazy."

Customs controls will gradually be beefed up to include new buildings at crossings, lower speed limits at checkpoints and new equipment for reading license plates of passing vehicles. By the end of 2011, a total of 98 additional customs officers will join the country's 182-man force at the borders with Germany and Sweden.

"In two, three years, there will be customs officers on duty round-the-clock. But that doesn't mean that we will make checks round-the-clock," Andersen told The Associated Press.

The Danish government has insisted customs officers will not be checking passports, and that the plan is compatible with Schengen rules.

"During today's check, the traffic flow was maybe a bit slower but that was mainly due to the great number of reporters," Andersen said. "The main difference is people will see more customs uniforms, more random controls than they are used to."

Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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