Visa “Pind”-emonium continues

Danish borders still effectively closed to visitors from 19 countries

The parting decision by former immigration minister Søren Pind (Venstre) demanding that foreign consulates participating in the Schengen agreements begin forwarding visa applications to Denmark for review on the grounds of Danish national security continues to be a diplomatic headache.

Under the Schengen agreements, other countries processed visa applications for Denmark according to a common set of rules, giving Denmark the advantage of having consulates in 29 countries where it did not have diplomatic representation.

Germany and Finland refused to comply with Pind’s demands, however, saying that the new policy created administrative problems and was an exception to Schengen rules, ending Denmark’s consular representations in 15 countries. France also objected and dissolved its agreement.

People in the affected countries could no longer seek a Danish visa – whether for business, tourism, or visiting family members – without travelling to a city with a Danish embassy.

Although new agreements have since been forged with some countries, settlements are still pending in 19 others. Travel and trade between Denmark and some of those countries will continue to suffer into 2013.

The reason for the continued log jam is Germany’s announcement it is still not ready to agree to Denmark’s rules.

When the diplomatic entanglements first came to light in January, the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), downplayed the issue as a “technical problem”. Bødskov told Politiken newspaper at that time that an agreement with Germany would be reinstated within a few month and that alternative agreements were being sought with other countries.

Bødskov now says he was overly optimistic.

“Germany has announced that it cannot resume its Danish representation agreements at this time,” said Bødskov and the trade and investment minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr (Socialistisk Folkeparti), in a joint statement to Politiken. “On the positive side, Germany has announced it is prepared to resume the agreements in June 2013.”

The delay in resuming an agreement with Germany until next summer means that people from at least eight countries remain effectively cut off from Denmark, including travellers from several Central Asian and African countries.

The Danish travel agency association, Danmarks Rejsebureau Forening, said a solution needs to be found.

"It is of great concern to us that this is taking so long to resolve,” spokesperson Lars Thykier told Politiken. “If sales continue to drop in 2013, the effects will be felt all over the country.”

Members of Dansk Industri, a business association that represents some 10,000 businesses, have said that the currnet visa muddle is costing Denmark over 500 billion kroner each year in lost trade and tourism.

Thykier mentioned the World Health Organisation. Its European headquarters are in Copenhagen, but it is forced to hold its meetings in Switzerland because participants from Central Asian countries cannot gain entry into Denmark without a major struggle.

In order to obtain a visa to come to Denmark, citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan must travel to Moscow, a journey of some 3,000km, to apply for a visa at the Danish embassy.

Central Asian advocacy organisation Centralasiatisk Selskab works to strengthen relations between the region and Denmark. Spokesperson Muborak Sjaripova said the closed-border policy is making that work nearly impossible.

"The situation is affecting Denmark in many ways,” said Sharipova to Poiltiken. “It affects those who live here and it affects tourism and trade because travellers here buy Danish goods.”

Sharipova is originally from Tajikistan and recently had a niece visit her in Denmark. In order to get a visa, they were forced to pay 7,000 kroner for a flight to Moscow and pay for a two week stay in the city until the visa was approved by the Danish embassy.

Finland has agreed to once again process Danish visa requests, and Bødskov said that other Schengen countries have agreed to represent Denmark in Armenia and Qatar beginning in the summer. He said that work is continuing “in full force” to find solutions for other countries where agreements are suspended or terminated.