European border protocol threatens freight movement

Brussels, Belgium: Questions are being raised about the possible effect on freight movements if the European Schengen agreement is changed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi issued a joint letter to the European Commission (“EU”), demanding that the EU make an “in-depth revision” to the agreement.

The Schengen Agreement, initially signed in 1985, essentially allows for passport-free travel within member states, which are collectively known as the Schengen Area. There are currently twenty-five nations – the twenty-two EU member states along with Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland – participating in Schengen, with two additional nations scheduled to join in the near future.

Schengen became part of EU law with the 1999 treaty so it can only be revised through the EU legislative process (rather than through amendment by its members). The EU will formally examine the request for Schengen to be revised at a summit in June.

Denmark, one of the Schengen states, is to re-impose controls on its frontiers with Germany and Sweden within two to three weeks. Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said customs booths would be erected at crossings, as well as at harbours and airports.

“We have reached agreement on reintroducing customs inspections at Denmark’s borders as soon as possible,” he told reporters. Insisting the controls were compatible with Schengen membership, he blamed a rise in cross-border crime. A populist right-wing party allied to the government had called for the move.

Denmark joined the Schengen Agreement in 2001 along with other Scandinavian countries. However, because Denmark is a Schengen member, it cannot reinstate full frontier controls and the minister said the new measures would “take place within the limits of Schengen”.

The use of customs officers would be a way of getting around the Schengen rules, as checks would be random.