- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

COPENHAGEN — Denmark on Tuesday started a controversial plan to boost customs checks on its borders, deploying 50 additional customs officers at crossings with Germany and Sweden.

Germany has led the opposition to the Danish initiative, warning that it violates the spirit, if not the principles, of Europe’s visa-free Schengen agreement, which allows for the free movement of people and goods inside some 25 European nations.

Denmark says the new customs plan, approved by Parliament last week, is needed to fight border-hopping criminals and illegal immigrants inside the Schengen zone.

“We now get more staff and that enables us to make more random controls,” said Erling Andersen, director of the Danish Tax and Customs Administration.

The first car to be pulled over Tuesday by the eight customs officers sent to the Danish-German crossing at Froeslev, 167 miles southwest of Copenhagen, was driven by a Dutch woman.

Denmark’s TV2 showed live footage of customs officers searching the car — surrounded by dozens of reporters. They found no drugs or weapons, just dog biscuits, potato chips and bread, and allowed the woman to enter Denmark.

In Germany, Hesse state lawmaker Joerg-Uwe Hahn told the top-selling Bild newspaper that travelers should not put up with the new measures.

“If Denmark reinstitutes border controls during holiday time, I can only advise turning around and taking a vacation in Austria or Poland instead,” he said.

Alexander Alvaro, a German member of the European Parliament, called the border controls in Denmark “a backward roll” that “endangers the cohesion of the European Union as a whole.”

Customs controls gradually will be increased to include new buildings at crossings, lower speed limits at checkpoints and new equipment for reading license plates of passing vehicles.

By the end of 2011, a total of 98 additional customs officers will join the country’s 182-man force at the borders with Germany and Sweden.

“In two, three years, there will be customs officers on duty round-the-clock. But that doesn’t mean that we will make checks round-the-clock,” Mr. Andersen told the Associated Press.

In Brussels, Michele Cercone, spokesman for the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, said Denmark has said it doesn’t intend to break European law and has shown its willingness to work with the EU.

He added that the European Commission, the EU’s executive, would closely monitor the way the new customs plans are implemented and was still assessing information it has received from Danish authorities on the plans.

The Danish government has insisted that customs officers will not be checking passports and that the plan is compatible with Schengen rules.

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