Friday, December 21, 2007

Schengen Expands Eastwards

The big news in Europe today is that the European Union has expanded its passport-free "Schengen zone" to include nine countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. The Schengen acquis takes two steps to increase mobility within the European Union: it removes internal border checks between member states and "harmonizes" entry conditions for individuals crossing borders with non-member states. After today, all individuals travelling between these countries will no longer face immigration and customs controls and land and sea borders (with air border controls to follow in 3/08), and a Schengen visa will allow entry into nine additional countries. The agreement also includes the nine newbies in the Schengen Information System, a shared security and law enforcement information database accessible to law enforcement and judicial authorities of member states. Austria and Slovakia launched the Schengen expansion ceremonies yesterday by cutting down a frontier barrier between their two countries. Their festivities mark an enormous step -- the fifteen current Schengen participants of Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden) are bringing over half as many former Eastern-bloc countries into the fold. Opposition to the expansion has come from all fronts -- a recent poll found that 75% of Austrians were opposed to the lifting of barriers, concerned about an increase in crime. The Slovaks, of course, think that criminals will enter their country from Austria, and the Poles worry about increased illegal immigration. And German border police demonstrated against the border opening due to concerns that "the Eastern European states did not have the same security standards as Germany and had problems with corruption, equipment and police cooperation." Moreover, higher external borders may increase friction with neighboring states and force immigrants from elsewhere into unsafe migration routes. On the positive side, analysts argue that increased labor mobility should help to address unemployment in former communist countries and labor shortages in Western Europe. Not only is this a huge step for international migration law, but it presents an interesting test of the EU's ability to harmonize standards while expanding into countries with less robust infrastructure (will the rising tide lift all boats or will it be a race to the bottom?) and about the EU's authority to govern from the top down (will the expansion lead to greater unity or will it result in planned future expansion going the way of the EU constitution?).

1 comment:

Willbert said...

There is an alternative: Free Europe Constitution. You can vote Yes or No at www.FreeEurope.info.