COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark will impose controls on its border to stop smugglers and illegal migrants, its new foreign minister said on Tuesday, in a move likely to worry the European Union but please a right-wing party on whose support the government now depends.
More police, machines screening number plates and other measures would increase security without breaking EU rules guaranteeing freedom of movement through the bloc, Kristian Jensen told Reuters.
The EU is grappling with an unprecedented flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa which is testing its asylum rules and the Schengen agreement - its core agreement on unrestricted travel.
Anti-immigration parties have shown signs of gaining support across the continent and Hungary last week said it would fence of its border with Serbia, drawing EU criticism.
The EU Commission said it would not comment on the Danish plan until it saw details, but it complained when Denmark briefly started checking cars at the border in 2011.
Jensen said he had mentioned the new measures in a meeting with his counterpart in neighboring Germany on Tuesday, adding that Frank-Walter Steinmeier “took it positively”.
“The strengthened border control will be within the framework of Schengen, in dialogue with relevant authorities and in accordance with neighboring countries,” Jensen told Reuters, speaking from Berlin by phone. “We want to make it tough on criminals to pass, but still easy for companies to come through.”
The foreign ministry said the new measures would not include regular stops or passport checks.
Steinmeier later told journalists he was grateful for “the announcement that the Schengen agreement will not be touched,” and would keep in contact with Denmark over the issue.
Analysts said any new controls would be largely symbolic and difficult to impose on the free-flowing, multi-lane traffic through Jutland, the only part of Denmark connected to the rest of mainland Europe.
Denmark’s center Liberals party formed a minority government after winning just 34 out of 179 seats in parliamentary elections this month.
Coalition talks with other parties failed, but the Liberals will still need the votes of other parties including the right-wing Danish People’s Party (DF), which has called for even tighter border controls than those announced.
“It (the border controls) is naturally a wholly symbolic initiative, but it has an important political function,” said Derek Beach, an associate professor at Aarhus University Department of Political Science.
DF is also pushing for curbs on immigration and a referendum on whether Denmark should stay in the EU.
Writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Andrew Heavens