Shaping Schengen

When New Borders are Drawn, Feeling Safe May Come to Define Policy Making

Opinion | Gabriele Ablasser | November 2007

Troops on the borders; tensions in parliament; injured pride – it’s all a bit of a mess. And as the Dec. 21 date to open the borders to new Schengen members approaches, attention is on the timing: delays, double standards.

Nobody seems to be asking whether this is really a good idea anymore. Perhaps it’s just too soon.

Having been accepted as full members of the EU, the countries currently preparing to enter the Schengen area need to be trusted to protect its outside borders. But many cannot. Nor should they be expected to at this stage, some argue.

But isn’t that the whole point? If these countries are not equipped to adequately monitor these borders, they should not have been elected to enter the Schengen zone at all.

Austria’s  need for additional security mirrors the emotions many EU citizens currently feel – they do not believe that they, their country or the entire EU are sufficiently protected, if the new members are given sole responsibility for border protection to the east.

And as long as these feelings exist, how can the Schengen zone cooperate? Sure, the EU has enabled many positive steps toward establishing Europe as an international power to reckon with. In trade negotiations, in technology development, in foreign aid, the EU has increasingly played a leading role. Indeed, when was the last time so many countries with a history of war were at peace for so long?

But arguments such as these are fruitless when member countries don’t feel safe. All of the positive reasons for EU success are (more or less) secondary when its citizens do not trust each other with increased responsibility.

This of course leaves the question of whether many of the Eastern European countries were ready to join the European Union when they did. Would it not have been more logical to prepare these nations better? Shouldn’t border controls and such have been a criterion for joining the Union? If they were, how has this become such an issue in the Schengen expansion?

The answer is that while the EU and the Schengen Agreement may work in theory; in practice, it’s not as simple. The wish to create a unified Europe has led many to throw caution to the winds. Welcoming member countries with significant differences – economic, social or otherwise – to the "old" EU and current Schengen members, weakens the whole.

And weakness is the Union’s worst enemy. Not that the new Schengen members alone have problems. There are plenty of those with and between the standing members as well. No, it is the indecisiveness when it comes to accepting new members, adapting to old members, and coming to terms with what unification truly means that may destroy what has been built with such care of these last decades.

Let’s continue to expand the EU. Let’s continue to accept new members into the Schengen area. But let’s do so only when we have reached true common ground between all existing members, and when the joining countries are actually ready to enter.

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