Opinion: Visa-Free Travel Creates More Fences for EU | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.11.2007

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Opinion: Visa-Free Travel Creates More Fences for EU

On Dec. 21, border controls between eight European countries will cease. Malta will follow suit a short while later. DW's Klaus Dahmann is critical of the decision by EU interior ministers to expand the Schengen zone.

Opinion graphic

This early European Christmas present has received little by way of media coverage in Germany, although the implications for European Union citizens are almost as far-reaching as those attached to the major EU expansion three years ago. The deep gash that the Iron Curtain once scored right across the continent has already grown over, and with border controls about to be dropped, the physical scar will become invisible.

The move, which will bring the newer EU countries into line with their western contemporaries, will also ease cross-border travel for citizens of older Schengen countries. Germans will only have to show their passports to one of their neighbors: the Swiss.

Klaus Dahmann

But to what extent is a relaxing of border controls and an expansion of the Schengen zone a positive thing? The answer is: it's good if you're on the inside, but not so good if you are not. Barriers to Russia, Ukraine and Serbia are getting higher and security measures are getting tighter. Bridges along the border between Slovenia and Croatia have been torn down, and there is no doubt that Ljubljana is feeling an element of schadenfreude towards its non-Schengen neighbor.

In rolling its open-border system further eastwards, the EU is also opening up new and shorter crime routes. Regardless of the number of fences and security installations, and despite Europe-wide visa data collection, Europol and national police authorities will have fences of their own to climb if they are to take on the new challenges coming their way.

The accusations of corruption currently facing the Czech embassy in Vietnam are a case in point. Before the Czech Republic has even become an official member of the Schengen clan, German intelligence services pinpointed an increasing number of Vietnamese citizens entering the country. The allegations have not been proven, but they go to show that more embassies will have to implement tougher visa regulations in the future.

Yet even then, Schengen will never manage to dispel the fear of certain European countries becoming a hot bet of economic refugees. There is still a long way to go to solve integration problems within the union, and EU member states are far from reaching a consensus on how many immigrants they should allow into their respective territories.

To the outside world, therefore, European politicians continue to sell higher external fences as the solution. And rather than admit to their own citizens that the new Schengen agreement will mean more workers from Poland, Slovakia or Hungary seeking their fortune in the richer countries of western Europe, they have opted to keep this celebration quiet.

Klaus Dahmann is a correspondent for Deutsche Welle (tkw).

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