The other narrative is the one preferred by the far-right People’s Party. More than four years after Denmark emerged as one of Western Europe’s most immigration-skeptical nations and reestablished border controls that were once abandoned, the fence is at least symbolically abolishing the idea of a borderless Europe, far-right groups argue. Some of them hope this is only the first step of many that could morph the wild boar fence into tougher border controls or even a wall akin to President Trump’s plans for the U.S.-Mexican border. Its goal would be to keep migrants out of Denmark, too.
It’s the latter narrative that moved the Danish-German fence into the international spotlight over the past years.
To the Danish far right, this week’s completion of the fence is “a very important symbolic victory,” said Jonas Toubøl, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen. “As long as you talk about it, it reinforces the idea of there being a nation that needs to be delimited from Europe. It helps [the far right] to push their agenda of nationalism."
But as the roughly 43-mile barrier was finally completed this week, far-right hopes to rally public support for an actual border fence seemed further removed from reality than ever. The fence Denmark so vehemently debated may be so flawed that it can’t even keep out the wild boars, as some Danish pig farm owners fear.
Roads crossing the border have forced authorities to leave gaps in the fence. Wild boars’ excellent swimming skills could render it largely useless, too, while harmless animal species might wind up in danger.
A five-foot-high barrier that resembles a garden fence would have triggered little outrage in most other places in the world, but borders are a delicate issue in the heart of Europe.
In 1985, half of all members of the European Union’s predecessor bloc, the European Economic Community, signed what’s known as the Schengen Agreement. The arrangement largely abolished border checks between its signatories, easing cross-border trade and tourism.
Wild German boars may not have noticed, but their potential habitat expanded rapidly, too, as physical border barriers became increasingly unpopular in Europe. Four years after the Schengen Agreement was signed, the fall of the Berlin Wall appeared to seal the fate of a Europe divided by walls, fences and tough border checks.
But in recent years, that consensus has broken apart, as many E.U. countries — including Schengen signatories like Denmark — have reintroduced some border controls, arguing that the 2015 migrant influx had become a crisis that warranted such measures.
In Denmark, the fear of uncontrolled migration has coincided with another concern: Thousands of pig farmers fear the African swine fever that has spread over the past five years may eventually reach the country that has only a short land border with Germany. For Denmark’s pig industry, which produces 28 million animals every year, a swine fever outbreak and the subsequent export halt would be disastrous.
The conservative ruling party viewed the proposal as a logical move for a party historically backed by farmers, who see Denmark “as a pork-exporting country known for high-quality meat,” said Kristina Bakkær Simonsen, a visiting scholar at Harvard University. But it was perceived in a different light abroad and among far-right groups.
The governmental push came amid an international awakening to Denmark’s migration-skeptical stance at the time, despite its image as a liberal role-model nation. “Since the early ’90s, Denmark has constantly imposed stricter rules on immigration,” said Toubøl, the researcher. But abroad, those changes had largely gone unnoticed until the refugee influx in 2015.
Positioned between what were then two of Europe’s most migration-friendly countries — Germany and Sweden — the Danish government found itself under intense pressure from the country’s far-right party, which heralded border walls and fences as ways to keep out migrants.
Reached by phone Thursday, far-right Danish People’s Party politician Ejler Schütt said he was still in favor of following the Hungarian example.
“They have border control,” Schütt said about Hungary. As recently as last year, Schütt — who represents the party in the southern Danish town of Aabenraa near the border with Germany — called for a higher fence to deter migrants.
The right moment for turning the wild boar fence into a barrier to stop humans has now passed, Schütt said, but he supports continued border checks to keep migrants out of the country.
A spokesman for the national Danish People’s Party leadership did not respond to an interview request.
For now, Denmark’s wild boar fence will remain just that. In case Europe’s 2015 refugee influx ever repeats, however, analysts aren’t so sure it will stay this way.
The fact that a physical border barrier now exists, Toubøl said, makes it “much easier [for the far-right] to argue, well, shouldn’t we just extend this since we already have it and put on a couple of meters of steel?”