An extraordinarily large number of refugees and asylum seekers who are looking towards Europe. EU’s inability to find common solutions to the refugee and asylum issue. The domino effect when individual EU countries lock up: This is the context in which the Öresund Region/Greater Copenhagen and the Danish-German border regions have come into focus due to the introduction of immigration controls by the Danish and Swedish borders.
When it comes to the Öresund Region/Greater Copenhagen, the identity checks affect cross-border commuting in buses, in trains across the Öresund Bridge and on the ferries between Helsingborg and Elsinore – primarily in direction towards Sweden. Travel time is increased by between 10 and 50 minutes. Conversely, rail traffic from Sweden to Copenhagen is less affected.
Daily 15,000 people commute across the Öresund – most from Scania to Copenhagen. In comparison almost as many – just over 18,000 – commute between Stockholm and Uppsala County in Sweden. Overall almost 96,000 people cross the Öresund (single journeys) on an average day.
The situation on the German-Danish border is not significantly affected by identity checks. This is because the Danes are only carry out provisional spot checks on the roads and in trains. The largest number of commuters can be found in the region Southern Jutland-Schleswig where an estimated 8,700 commuters cross the border daily – by far the largest part of 7,300 are resident in Germany. There are no figures on commuting across the Fehmarn Belt, but the estimate here is a number in the hundreds.
The situation will change if control measures are maintained during holiday periods where traffic grows significantly. The Danish Road Directorate has estimated that up to 2 million vehicles have crossed the border in both directions in July. This is equivalent to approximately 67,000 vehicles a day.
The introduction of carrier liability could also have a significant impact – especially if the German authorities say no to carrier liability in Germany. For example, discontinuation of the direct train connection between Hamburg and Copenhagen and Aarhus respectively with Danish ID checks with delays and extended journey times in consequence.
January the 4th 2016 – end of the Scandinavian Passport Union?
The Nordic Passport Union has guaranteed free travel between the Nordic countries for over 50 years, but from November 12th 2015 Sweden introduced spot checks at the border to Denmark: At the ferry landings, at the payment stations of the Öresund Bridge and at Hyllie station in Scania. From midnight on January 4th 2016, the Swedish Government introduced a carrier liability for any operators who transport passengers by bus, train or ferry from Denmark to Sweden.
Carrier liability means that the carrier is held responsible for ensuring that all passengers wishing to travel to Sweden are in possession of a valid passport, ID card or driver’s license that meets Swedish requirements. For each passenger carried without valid identity papers, the operator is issued with a fine of 50,000 Swedish Crowns. This has led to DSB and Skånetrafiken introducing ID checks at Kastrup Station (Copenhagen airport), while the ferry companies in Elsinore have been forced to take similar actions. In addition, bus operators between Denmark and Sweden have also introduced ID checks.
The Swedish law on ID checks is valid for three years and gives the Swedish Government the right to introduce ID checks – in accordance with the Schengen Convention – for six months at a time. On January 7th Sweden has extended their border control to February 8th, Interior Minister Anders Ygeman announced. He does not expect these controls to be phased out in the near future: First, the EU must gain control over the Union’s external borders and take joint responsibility for the refugee crisis.
Denmark to follow suit – end of Schengen?
At noon on January 4th the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced that Denmark had now introduced ID spot checks at the border to Germany. This means that in addition to the Öresund Region/Greater Copenhagen, there is also controls at the Fehmarn Belt ferry and the border between Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland.
EU allows member states to introduce border controls for up to six months. Six countries in the Schengen Cooperation have chosen to do so. The EU’s new Dutch Presidency warned that free movement within the Schengen area is under enormous pressure.
Danish carrier liability
The Danish Government is preparing to introduce carrier liability. A Danish request has been sent to the German Federal Ministry of Transport to cooperate. At the time of writing, there was no official response from Berlin. But as a political response, the federal government expressed its concern for national solo initiatives. A representative from the Federal Ministry of Transport has expressed doubt that Germany could assist Denmark in introducing carrier liability.
Spokesperson for the Schleswig-Holstein Minister Torsten Albig denied in early January that private operators will be allowed to conduct ID checks on German soil. Deutsche Bahn and Scandlines have expressed that they do not see themselves in a position to take on ID checks in trains and ferries as this is a state and police task, respectively.
Öresundsinstituttet, Region SønderjyllandSchleswig, Landesregierung Schleswig-Holstein, DR, tagesschau.de, wdr.Nachrichten, Danish Road Directorate, STV, Handelsblatt, Ritzau.