to the programme
Lungescu presents "Fortress Europe" - and she gives
her personal view in Comment.
The free movement of goods, persons, services
and capital are the are the four freedoms on which the European single
market rests. The Belgium-Luxembourg border must have been one of the
first borders to be erased in Europe this century, for under a convention
signed as far back as 1921 border controls were effectively removed. Then
in 1958, The Netherlands joined Belgium and Luxembourg in the Benelux
customs agreement. People, goods, services and capital could circulate
freely in this new economic space. It was the shape of things to come.
The next big step was achieved in Schengen
on the bank of the river Moselle. Schengen, in Luxembourg, is a peaceful
place set among rolling hills. It's good wine-making country.
It was here, in June 1985, on the river-boat
Princess Marie Astrid that negotiators from the three Benelux countries
plus France and
Germany concluded an
agreement to scrap border controls at their common frontiers. Although
it's hard to find Schengen on a map, it does seem like the right place
for such an agreement because if you cross one bridge you find yourself
in Germany and if you go further down, in France.
At the moment, there is no
formal connection between the European
Union and Schengen,
but 13 of the 15 EU member states are also members of the Schengen agreement.
Only the islands of Britain and Ireland have stayed out, retaining border
checks at ports and airports.
At the Schengen general secretariat in Brussels,
the doors open automatically, a physical illustration of the way border
crossings open on the west European mainland. It's not just ordinary citizens
that benefit, the acting head of the Secretariat Luc Vandamme says Schengen
has also made policing easier -
example, a car stolen in France, and found the same day in northern Germany,
things that were quite impossible before Schengen. Certainly without Schengen
and without the collaboration and the exchange of information, the situation
for every individual country would be more difficult than it is today."
The brainpower behind Schengen is a central
computer called the Schengen Information System. It is a vast database
fed by national police forces with information on millions of wanted persons,
from terrorists to drug smugglers to illegal immigrants. Police in one
Schengen country are allowed to cross the borders of another in hot pursuit
of a suspected criminal. The extension of police powers is seen as a price
which has to be paid for lifting border controls. Another is paid by non-EU
citizens, or, as the Schengen Convention calls them, 'aliens'.
With 8 thousand kilometres of coastline
and a record of indulgence towards migrants, Italy
has been seen as the soft underbelly of Europe. Germany, which has received
2.5 million foreigners over the past decade, has championed harsher measures
to deal with foreigners, but critics of Schengen are already complaining
about human rights infringements. Steve Peers, one of the authors of a
report on how asylum cases are being determined across Europe, says it's
pretty much a lottery -
"Yes, some countries like Belgium
are more concerned to give asylum seekers procedural rights. Once they're
in the country, it's much harder to be expelled from Belgium. It's often
the larger member states that have been the strictest on asylum seekers.
In the UK, for instance, certain types of appeals won't prevent you from
being expelled. In some countries it's almost impossible to stop yourself
from being expelled on an appeal which has a huge practical impact on
whether you can make a successful claim for asylum."
The peace agreement in the former Yugoslavia
and the more stable situation in Albania have reduced the flood of asylum
seekers to around a quarter of million a year. Irritation with western
bureaucracy now seems to be the mood in the Balkans, as these comments
made by Albanians queuing for hours for a visitor's visa to Italy, suggest
"I'm 18 years old, I'm preparing
to study in Italy. There is no future here."
"The problem is, the Italian embassy
doesn't know who is a businessman, or who is going for tourism or to meet
with his friends etc
"I want a visa for Italy because
I want to go to my parents. I will pay my visa if necessary because I
want to go to Italy legally not illegally."
Not all visitors wait in disciplined lines.
About one million people enter the European Union legally each year, mostly
to join their families. But illegal immigration is also big business.
Mehmet owns a small hotel in a bustling Istanbul bazaar - a well known
meeting-point for people smugglers. A thousand a month are trying to get
into Europe via Istanbul alone, he says, and the Turkish police do nothing
"Of course the police are taking
bribes. They know how the business works. When people move, they usually
move in large groups, with women and children. It's impossible for the
police not to notice that. Everyone knows this starts happening. How can
the police not know."
EU governments have repeatedly urged Turkey
to act more decisively, but since the snub Ankara received over EU
membership, the Turks seem to have turned a deaf ear.
However, the Central and Eastern European
countries slated to join the Union can't afford to ignore EU demands.
The Schengen agreement was incorporated into last year's Amsterdam Treaty
of the EU. Once that's ratified, the new members will automatically join
the Schengen area and become responsible for the Union's outside borders.
Tough decisions are already being made.
Schengen states currently
sharing open borders
Hundreds of traders demonstrated at the
beginning of the year on Poland's
border with Belarus and Ukraine.
They used to be able to cross the border freely to buy and sell as they
wished. But then Poland was told by Brussels that it had to introduce
stricter regulations. Eastward enlargement poses a particular challenge
to the EU. As the European Justice Commissioner Anita Gradin observes,
the collapse of communism has turned many Eastern European countries into
havens for organised crime -
"Many of them are used as transit
countries. You can see that when it comes to heroin. Afghanistan is the
new big producer and the dealers are using the Balkan route to get to
Europe. On the other hand, the Eastern countries are producers, for instance
of synthetic drugs. The producers in Holland and Belgium are increasing
their production by also establishing themselves in Poland, in the Czech
Republic, in Hungary."
It's not just drugs. In the port of Riga,
officials help their Latvian
colleagues detect large-scale smuggling, mainly alcohol and cigarettes.
It's one of many projects to help EU candidates fight cross-border crime.
John Thurston is a customs advisor of the
Latvian government and was involved in setting up a new intelligence gathering
centre in Riga -
"The big problem for Latvia is that
it alone cannot fight organised crime. And I think the countries in the
EU are well aware that you can only fight organised crime if you share
information, if you work together on an international scale. Because that's
what the criminals do. And we're stupid if we don't do the same."
It'll take many years before the EU gives
its stamp of approval to the new border controls in the east. Some applicant
governments are already complaining about the costs involved. And there
is the political fallout.
for example, could be split from the Hungarian minorities in Slovakia
and Romania, at least until these two countries make sufficient progress
to also join the EU. Romania and Bulgaria share the dubious distinction
of being the only applicant countries whose citizens still need visas
to travel to the EU. The Romanian foreign minister Andrei Plesu wants
his country removed from the visa black-list. But he was rattled earlier
this year when Austria urged Hungary to require visas from Romanian citizens
in order to limit the numbers of illegals from the east. He commented
"Theoretically, we are preoccupied
by this perspective but we had some very encouraging signs from the side
of Hungary itself. So I wouldn't want to be discriminated against, but
we have at least the hope that our neighbours and friends the Hungarians
will not put us into a difficult position."
The Hungarians have resisted the demands
until now. But Ferenc Koezeg, the executive director of the Hungarian
Helsinki committee is worried about the authorities' general attitude
to foreigners -
"The Fortress Europe idea does exist.
Authorities really believe Hungary's only duty is to keep out any migrant,
even asylum seekers. They consider all asylum seekers as illegal, irregular
migrants. And they don't understand that European practice requires humane
treatment of asylum seekers."
For now, Austrian
helicopters keep a close watch on the borders with Hungary. Austrian chancellor
Viktor Klima has a word of warning - freedom of movement may be a good
thing, but not just yet -
"There's some worry in the Austrian
population about the enlargement because the average salary in Hungary
is only 20% of the average salary in Austria. Today we have a very controlled
immigration system and therefore we are always very frank and open in
discussion with our neighbour countries addressing transitional periods
in specific sensitive sectors, for example free movement of work-force.
And we try to inform the Austrian population because today I believe there
is more unacceptance than acceptance."
Like Austria, Sweden
only joined the European Union in 1995, after a closely fought referendum.
The Swedish EUjustice commissioner Anita Gradin heard the same worries
of the big black clouds that some saw was that we would be flooded with
people from all of Europe, destroying our labour market and all that.
Nothing of that has happened. It's one thing that you have the right to
move freely, it's another thing if you use it. You know, there is only
1-1.5% movement inside the European Union and I would be very surprised
if there was going to be a big change because we are going to have new
members from Eastern and Central Europe."
So the idea of Easterners flooding western
Europe once their countries join the EU may be a myth. And the idea of
a Fortress Europe might also be a myth in an age of increasing globalisation.
But they're powerful myths. At the Schengen secretariat, Luc Vandamme
is organising a meeting with the applicant countries to start explaining
how the Schengen convention will work once it becomes an integral part
of the European Union's rules. Otherwise, he admits, Schengen risks becoming
a dirty word outside the EU -
"Schengen has never taken care
of its own public relations and I think there is a job there for myself
and for the Schengen ministers. But I quite agree, yes we need to give
information and to explain because otherwise Schengen might become a dirty
Back in Schengen, a grandmother is taking
the family picture under the European flag marking the place of the agreement.
I asked her husband, a 71-year old from here in Luxembourg, what he feels
about the EU's enlargement eastwards -
"Well we must see because it is
very difficult with all those strange people coming here from other countries.
Yes, we must be careful."
But his son-in-law, a 31-year old from Bavaria
in Germany, feels eastern Europe should be included in the Schengen area
"Yes, I think so. Because it was
just a political border, between eastern and western Europe; it was not
a geographic or economic border. So, I think we have to involve everybody."