Thursday, December 20, 2007

Borderless Europe gets larger, and that's a good thing

While Lou Dobbs and the Minutemen want to build longer and higher borders, Europe -- or at least the democratic portion of it -- is whittling them away. Today, nine more countries acceded to the Schengen acquis, for a total of twenty-four. (Actually, it's more like twenty-seven; for while Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are not officially "in," they are de facto given their long standing open borders with their neighbours.) It is now possible to travel from Tallinn, Estonia all the way to Lisbon, Portugal without ever encountering a single border guard. That is perhaps the most significant thing of all, that many of the new signatories were states that were forced in the former Soviet Union or were client states in the Warsaw Pact.

I've mentioned before here that the concept of a fully open Western Hemisphere is a long way off and won't happen in the short term simply because there are too many interests on the left and the right who won't let it happen. But the Europeans must be doing something right. They've had relative peace and prosperity for over six decades after being almost left with nothing after World War II, and have opened or at least loosened border controls for at least a dozen years. If the border between France and Germany could be opened up, it certainly made sense to open them up between Germany and Poland also.

No one has been coerced by fiat to speak a new language or have been forced to become friends with former enemies. The open border regime works simply because it makes common sense ... and in a region about half the size of the United States, perhaps a bit larger, having common basic labour and safety standards benefits everyone; as does the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.

Two EU countries still conspicuously absent are the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. They have special security concerns, given the presence of the presently inactive but still present paramilitary groups from both sides of the divide as well as other terrorist groups. However, they do co-operate with the Continent on many security issues including information sharing on people they consider trouble, such as the soccer hooligans. Would one have imagined even that say two decades ago? No.

Of course, there's always the Berlin Wall approach that CNN and Fox News both approve of. Just remember, one can always dig under the wall; and money moves by wire these days, not the byways and highways of the planet.

Europe gets the thumbs up from me, at least today.

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Unknown said...

Ireland and the UK have a different open borders policy to the rest of Europe. The main reason they are not in the rest of Europe is the nature of the border. I.e sea borders. It works in Europe mainly due to people can drive from state to state. They still check passports/ID cards in AIrports. You can drive to the UK from Ireland via Northern Ireland, but can't drive to France hence mainly the reason.

BlastFurnace said...

Good point, Simon. My question would be how does the Chunnel factor into this? I know there are checkpoints for vehicles shuttling between the UK and France via the train; but what of those who are taking the high speed link from St. Pancras to Gare du Nord? It kind of defeats the purpose of high speed if the train had to stop for an hour for customs -- such as is the case with the trains on this side of the pond that run from New York to Montreal or Toronto.

Unknown said...

Well you don't really have customs in the EU as it is a single market so even flying to Europe from the UK or Ireland you just show your passport and get through.Shengan is really a thing about passport checking or not.