Europe moves to end passport-free travel in migrant row:European interior ministers agree to 'radical revision' of Schengen amid fears of a flood of migrants from north Africa
Denmark's populist border controls reintroduced but many remain sceptical
European nations moved to reverse decades of unfettered travel across the continent when a majority of EU governments agreed the need to reinstate national passport controls amid fears of a flood of immigrants fleeing the upheaval in North Africa.
In a serious blow to one of the cornerstones of a united, integrated Europe, EU interior ministers embarked on a radical revision of the passport-free travel regime known as the Schengen system to allow the 26 participating governments to restore border controls.
They also agreed to combat immigration by pressing for "readmission accords" with countries in the Middle East and north Africa to send refugees back to where they came from.
The policy shift was pushed by France and Italy, who have been feuding and panicking in recent weeks over a small influx of refugees from Tunisia. But 15 of the 22 EU states which had signed up to Schengen supported the move, with only four resisting, according to officials and diplomats present.
The issue will be discussed at a summit of EU prime ministers and presidents next month. But the "reforms" of the Schengen system also need to go through the European parliament, where there is likely to be strong resistance to empowering national governments to reinstate controls.
The border-free region embraces more than 400m people in 22 EU countries, as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. It extends from Portugal to Russia's borders on the Baltic, and from Reykjavik to Turkey's border with Greece.
The move to curb freedom of travel came as the extreme nationalist right, which is increasingly influencing policy across Europe, chalked up a notable victory in Denmark, which announced it would unilaterally re-erect controls on its borders with Germany and Sweden.
The centre-right minority government in Copenhagen capitulated to the fiercely anti-immigrant nationalists of the Danish People's party to secure parliamentary backing for long-term budget, welfare and retirement policies. "I have worked hard for this," said Pia Kjaersgaard, the far-right leader.MORE
The rightwing Danish People's Party (DPP) laid on a spread of bacon crisps and pink champagne to celebrate the agreement on tighter border controls. But many Danes refuse to toast legislation they see as damaging to the country's reputation around Europe.
"It is an expression of xenophobia," said Carl Carstensen, a history teacher from Vejle, an hour's drive just north of the German border. "I guess Pia Kjaersgaard [the DPP leader] is scared of all the people who will come flooding up from the Arab countries. Presumably, the idea behind this is to catch criminals but it is border control officers who are at the borders, not police. Unless the officers have police privileges it doesn't make any sense."
The DPP is a key supporter of Denmark's Liberal-led coalition, and has been criticised for making concessions on the government's new financial plan in order to secure a populist deal on border control.
"Kjaersgaard has a phobia about foreign people and she knows she can win lots of votes this way, especially among the older population," said Carstensen. "The idea behind the EU was European integration. This is the complete opposite and I think that we have been noticed. But not for anything good."
Immigrants and their descendants make up about 10% of Denmark's 5.5m population, and the number of residence permits granted rose by more than 50% between 2004 and 2009. Many believe the Danes have become steadily more opposed to immigration in recent years, reflected in the rise in DPP support.