Go to Austria instead of Denmark, German minister tells tourists

A German politician has been accused of acting “bizarrely and hysterically” by calling on his fellow countrymen to shun Denmark this summer in favour of Austria.

Jörg-Uwe Hahn, the minister for European affairs in the German state of Hessen, suggested Germans willing to go abroad this summer should pick Poland or Austria due to Denmark’s decision to reintroduce border checks.

The Danish government of Lars Lokke Rasmussen is understood to have ignored the Schengen free travelling agreement due to the growing pressure by far-right rivals. The minority government branded Hahn’s appeal as “bizarre and hysterical” – and claimed the operations at the country’s borders with Germany and Sweden were focusing on custom offences.

However, the European Commission (EC) sees this as a breach of the Schengen partnership rules and considers launching legal action against the European Union (EU) member state. Many political leaders across Europe also expressed their disagreement, while right-wingers called on their domestic opponents to follow Denmark’s example. While decision-makers in Denmark argue they are trying to crack down on the smuggling of weapons and drugs, right-wing politicians in many EU member countries try to arouse fears due to the many people from civil war-shattered North Africa seeking asylum on the continent.

Hahn’s appeal is expected to worsen the political and diplomatic relationship between Denmark and his home country which has been negatively affected by the reintroduction of random border checks. It has to be seen whether his statement also has an impact on overnight stay figures. Around three in 10 tourists registered in Denmark are Germans – who also take the largest share among foreign holidaymakers travelling to Austria. Nearly one in four people who spent their winter vacation in Austria in the 2009/2010 season were Germans.

Twenty-five European countries are part of the Schengen travel agreement which theoretically allows citizens to move within this area without ever having to show a passport or other ID documents. With Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, three Schengen treaty participants are non-EU nations. Ireland and Great Britain decided not to become part of the agreement, while EU leaders have been objecting to Bulgaria and Romania joining. Both countries became members of the EU in 2004.

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Schengen “must be strengthened, not weakened.” The minister controversially claimed every Schengen agreement member should be given “autonomic rights” to reintroduce temporary controls at its borders for some reason. Mikl-Leitner – seen as a hardliner when it comes to immigration and crime issues – said both the “freedom of travelling (within Schengen borders) and the safety of citizens had to be ensured.”

Mikl-Leitner refused to rule out the comeback of preliminary checks at Austrian borders. The minister explained she would seek the support of the army in carrying out these controls “if the refugee movement (from North Africa) escalates.” Border controls were most recently carried out in Austria last month when Vienna hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Defence Minister Norbert Darabos signalised readiness to send soldiers to the border if Mikl-Leitner called on the army for assistance in the case of temporary controls. He admitted having been “surprised” by the decision of the Danish government.