By Julian Isherwood (AFP) – Oct 3, 2011
COPENHAGEN — Denmark's first woman prime minister on Monday announced on her first day in office that she would drop a controversial bid by her predecessor to place permanent customs controls at Danish borders.
"The former government's decision on borders is to be stopped," said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who with her three-party centre-left coalition has ended a decade of conservative rule in Denmark.
The decision last May by the previous centre-right government, under pressure from its far-right anti-immigration parliamentary ally the Danish People's Party (DPP), has been met with harsh criticism from the European Commission and Germany, cautioning the move could violate the open-border Schengen Agreement.
The plan was to have been introduced in three phases, adding 98 extra customs officers to the Danish border control regime by January 1, 2012, with 50 officers already deployed.
A final phase to construct permanent control facilities was slated to be in place in early 2014.
"In cooperation with our neighbours, Denmark will carry out an effective customs control based on a mobile, flexible and intelligence-based effort in keeping with the common rules in effect in the EU," the new government's programme said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, an outspoken critic of the former Danish customs control plan, was quick to hail Thorning-Schmidt's announcement Monday.
"This is a decision in favour of liberty for European citizens," he said in a statement.
The 44-year-old new Danish premier, daughter-in-law of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, also Monday introduced the nine other women and 13 men who make up her cabinet to Queen Margrethe, before unveiling her programme.
Thorning-Schmidt said her government was committed to its EU neighbours and would be calling a referendum during the current electoral term to do away with Denmark's opt-outs to EU defence and legal cooperation.
She did not however say whether a referendum would be held on whether Denmark should join the eurozone.
The government programme also vowed to kick-start Denmark's struggling economy, calling for a 10-billion-kroner (1.3-billion-euro, $1.8-billion) stimulus package and increased duties on tobacco and "unhealthy foods."
When it comes to putting the programme into action, Thorning-Schmidt insisted earlier Monday she had put together "a very strong team."
Among the ministers is the country's first-ever minister of immigrant origin: Indian-born Social Liberal Manu Sareen, 44, who has been given the Ecclesiastical and Equality Ministry.
Thorning-Schmidt's cabinet includes five more ministries than that of her predecessor Lars Loekke Rasmussen, which heavily relied on the support of DPP.
A notable change was the closure of the integration ministry, in the clearest indication yet that the right-wing DPP's decade-long grip on immigration policy has come to an end.
The foreign ministry was given to Thorning-Schmidt's main partner through the campaign, Socialist People's Party leader Villy Soevndal, and the economy and interior ministry went to the head of the Social Liberal Party Margrethe Vestager.
The key finance, justice and defence ministries meanwhile all went to Social Democrats, Bjarne Corydon, Morten Boedskov and Nick Haekkerup respectively.
Thorning-Schmidt also appointed the youngest ever minister in Denmark's history: Thor Moeger Pedersen, 26, of the Socialist People's Party, who will be taxation minister.
Thorning-Schmidt will give the prime minister?s speech at the opening of parliament on Tuesday.
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