Checkpoint-free Europe confounds Germany′s skeptics | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.03.2010
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Checkpoint-free Europe confounds Germany's skeptics

Skeptics in Germany initially thought the treaty on the abolition of border checks in Europe would be a major security disaster. With 15 years of experience, there are fewer pessimists around now.

View of bridge linking Germany and Poland at Goerlitz / Zgorzelec

Checkpoints were dismantled as a result of Schengen

"Shut your doors, the Poles are coming!" Berlin's Tagesspiegel daily warned its readers shortly before several of Germany's eastern neighbors joined the Schengen zone in late 2007. Once border controls were abolished criminals from farther east would swamp much of Germany, regional politicians and journalists predicted.

"None of that ever materialized," said Interior Ministry spokesman Markus Beyer. He pointed out: "The abolition of regular checks at the border has not meant our border police units have completely withdrawn."

Residents of Germany's far west had similar worries a decade earlier. Then the Schengen Agreement, which abolished controls along the borders shared of by the initial signatories - Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - , was first implemented.

But Schengen didn't mean the end to all controls.

Control without controls

Nowadays there are many more random checks and searches, said Beyer of the Interior Ministry. The difference is that they are carried out inside the country rather than at the frontiers.

German policemen checking a car

German police are never far away in the border regions

Indeed, Schengen has not turned the border regions into dangerous areas. On the contrary, crime statistics tell a different tale.

The year after Poland joined the zone, the crime rate decreased by more than 12 percent in Brandenburg, which shares a long border with Poland. Nor did the number of foreigners among the culprits go up in the period under revision.

That development may have been a result of cross-border police cooperation, which the Schengen Treaty made possible in the first place. Since border controls came to an end, police officers from neighboring countries regularly work together in command centers, engage in joint patrols and exchange information about offenders and suspects in a shared electronic database.

For Germany, the absence of border checks has had a positive impact on a number of other fields too. Judicial cooperation between neighboring countries has become much closer. Culprits wanted in Germany and caught elsewhere can now be extradited within days.

Border hopping

The economy may be the sector that has profited the most from the Schengen zone and the unfettered exchange of goods from country to country.

An engineer looking at machine parts

Shortage of skilled workers - the east to the rescue?

Germany's eastern European neighbors are steadily gaining buying power and thus developing into even better markets for export-driven Germany, said Siegfried Behrendt, a consultant for investors in Brandenburg.

"Look at the skilled labor issue," Behrendt said, referring to the improved prospects on the domestic labor market, a result of European Union's eastward enlargement, which has been fostered by the abolition of border checks.

"With the unrestricted movement of labor as of 2011, German companies stand a good chance of getting more of the specialists they need, and some of these are now being trained in eastern Europe."

Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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