Yesterday marked the lowest point of Denmark’s six month EU Presidency after MEPs launched vicious attacks on the justice minister, Morten Bødskov, over changes to Shengen border agreement that circumvented the European Parliament and the European Commission.
The row concerned last week’s decision by European justice ministers to bypass the two EU bodies to allow member states to introduce border controls with Shengen members that persistently fail to protect their borders with non-EU states.
With Denmark chairing the negotiations, it became the target of the MEP’s attacks and allegations that they had acted undemocratically and undermined the borderless principles behind the Shengen agreement.
"You have broken the relation of trust with this parliament, and broken away from the community method, which guarantees that larger member states cannot impose their will on smaller ones," Joseph Daul, leader of the centre right EPP group, told the parliament.
Daul called for parliament to refuse to work with the Danes for the remainder of its presidency, while others promised to legally challenge the move.
“For my part that, starting with the evening of June 7, the Danish presidency is no longer a credible interlocutor. From now to June 30 at midnight, we shall address ourselves exclusively either to the European Council or informally to the next presidency, of the Republic of Cyprus,” Dual said.
“We simply will not accept this. We must challenge the council's decision before the European Court of Justice,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group. “We should halt all ongoing negotiations in the area of justice and home affairs under the Danish presidency.”
Some MEP’s also accused the Danish presidency of appealing to populism by allowing inter-Shengen border controls.
It did not help Bødskov that Denmark was the target of heavy criticism in the EU after it chose to introduce customs controls at the behest of the anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti last summer – though the new government that was elected in September promptly removed them.
The changes to Shengen stem from concern voiced last year by about the threat to the EU from the large influx of migrants associated with the Arab Spring uprisings. Specific concerns were raised by France over the tens of thousands of Libyan migrants that had been given six-month residency in Italy and which could travel freely throughout the EU.
Last week EU justice ministers voted unanimously to allow the introduction of border controls between Shengen members but only after large scale illegal immigration had been identified through careful monitoring.
The border controls would be able to be introduced for six months at a time with extensions that could last up to two years.
"There must be no weak links in the chain when it comes to illegal migration," Bødskov told the media after last week’s vote. "Steps need to be taken quickly if Schengen cooperation is under threat."
What has upset MEPs is that ministers also voted to downgrade the influence of the European Parliament in decision making over Shengen. But while MEPs are claiming it was a move to deliberately sideline the parliament, Bødskov argued it was a purely legal move that had no political motivations.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, acknowledged that Denmark was not solely to blame for the changes to Shengen that were supported by all 27 EU members. He did express dissatisfaction with the result however.
“We have a system with two political chambers,” Schulz said according to Berlingske. “With this decision one chamber is excluding the other. I hope that Denmark will reconsider the situation and return to the negotiating table.”
The EU home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, was also disappointed by the outcome.
“A year ago there was anger when a member state decided to close its borders unilaterally,” Malmström told Berlingske. “Now we are building a system where you can do it without it being a major problem. It concerns me deeply.”