Nothing in Denmark is as popular politically as the strict policy on foreigners to which the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, adheres. And so the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice affirming the right of family reunification within the European Union went down in Copenhagen like a bombshell. ( dpa )
Rasmussen and a huge majority in the Danish parliament, together with leading media, plan to defend Denmark's immigration laws with all the means at their disposal.
"We'll make sure that you can't get around our rules on family reunification by going through back doors," Rasmussen told the Politiken newspaper this week.
According to the ruling by the Luxembourg-based court, the EU's highest legal body, EU members may not refuse entry or right of residence to non-EU spouses and family members. This means a Danish citizen, having worked in another EU country, could bring his or her spouse back to Denmark even if the spouse is a failed asylum seeker or previously resided illegally in the EU.
Under current Danish law, a Dane may not bring a non-EU spouse into the country unless both partners are at least 24 years of age. Other strict conditions must be met too. For example, the Dane must lodge a bond, and the pair must show they have a permanent home and that their ties to Denmark are stronger than to any other country.
"The government considers the ruling to be wrong. It's incompatible with the EU's efforts at combating illegal immigration," declared Rasmussen, one of the more moderate voices in Denmark's increasingly nationalist-coloured debate on family reunification.
"Give Denmark Back to Us!" demanded the right-wing populist Danish People's Party (DPP) in full-page newspaper advertisements. The party's votes helped Rasmussen to push through what he calls Denmark's "tough policy on foreigners." Since 2001, the "foreigner issue" has brought his Liberal Party three consecutive election victories.
The opposition Social Democrats, who came up short in those elections, are now signalling their unconditional support in the national struggle against the EU's liberal rules. "The European Court of Justice must not be allowed to determine Denmark's policy on foreigners," said the party's leader, Helle Thorning Schmidt.
She even accused Rasmussen of not taking the "EU threat" seriously enough. "It's not a matter of just a small corner of our foreigner policy," Schmidt remarked.
Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest newspaper, also sees the EU court's ruling as fundamentally problematic. " Denmark's foreigner policy has failed," opined the paper, which is pointedly critical of Islam and gained worldwide notoriety for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
Danish nurse-in-training Ditte Reisz has come to the same conclusion, though for a different reason. Like thousands of her fellow Danes, she emigrated - along with her Israeli husband - to neighbouring Sweden because of Denmark's strict immigration restrictions on spouses. Sweden's rules are more liberal and its media, in contrast to Denmark's, are not dominated by the "foreigner issue" day after day.
In an angry letter to the editor, Reisz rebuked Danish authorities for apparently having deliberately kept her in the dark about a 2004 EU directive on free movement and residence rights for non-EU spouses and family members, which the Luxembourg court ruling upheld.
"I'm ashamed of a country that supposedly stands for freedom and democracy and has now put so many people in this situation," she wrote.
Observers in Copenhagen foresee massive domestic political problems for Rasmussen.
The DPP, on whose support his minority government relies, is calling for an all-out fight "against Brussels" - to the point of ignoring the court ruling. But even Copenhagen cannot simply skirt EU law, which a likely parade of lawsuits by people caught up in Denmark's tight immigration rules will show.