Joys and worries in wake of Schengen enlargement 2007-12-21 21:24:13   Print

    ZITTAU, Germany, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- In a symbolic act, a German police officer and his Polish counterpart on Friday lifted the border barrier dividing the two countries at a border crossing near the eastern German town of Zittau.

    Around 50 minutes later, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek cut the border barrier dividing their countries with a saw.

    The above acts marked the entry of nine new European Union (EU)member states into the Schengen zone, which eliminates passport checks and border controls.

    The nine countries are Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, all of which joined the EU on May 1, 2004 in the "big bang" of the EU enlargement.

    Their entry marked the biggest-ever enlargement of the Schengen zone, expanding the zone from 15 countries to 24.

    European leaders expressed their joy over the "big bang" of the Schengen enlargement, saying this would push forward the process of European integration.

    "Historic moment", "significant step" and "great day for Europe" are words spoken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

    "This is a nice Christmas gift for European citizens," said European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini.

    The Schengen enlargement is of course good news for residents living in the nine new EU states.

    Fireworks lit up the night the sky in the German town of Frankfurt on the Oder River that borders Poland at midnight Friday(23:00 GMT Thursday) when the German-Polish border barrier was eliminated.

    Slogans like "Yes to Open Borders", "Yes to International Train" were shouted by the audience at the border-opening ceremony in Zittau.

    However, there are worries among the general public in the old EU member states about the increase of illegal immigrants, theft and organized crime from poorer neighboring nations.

    Maria, a restaurant waitress in Zittau, told Xinhua that her car had recently been stolen, and she is worried about the deterioration of the security situation as Zittau is very close to Poland and the Czech Republic.

    "All the people I know are pessimistic, we do not know what will happen after the borders are opened," she said.

    Due to the cancellation of border controls and passport checks following the Schengen enlargement, German border police are worried about losing their jobs.

    Last month, hundreds of police officers protested in Frankfurt at the Oder River, asking for the postponement of the border-opening.

    The police argued the government should leave the borders in place until a security analysis had shown they were no longer needed.

    "The cancellation of border checks is equivalent to sending invitations to criminals from the east," said Scheuring, a local police union chief, at a symposium on Thursday.

    However, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that opening the eastern borders to Poland and the Czech Republic did no harm to the security interests of the country.

    Germany, Poland and Czech Republic have agreed to conduct joint patrols along the borders, sending a clear signal to the people that the police have the situation under control and they don't need to fear.

    Meyer, a bus driver in Zittau, thought differently, saying that it is now more convenient for him to go to Poland and the Czech Republic to ski and spend holidays.

    "It is much cheaper there," he told Xinhua.

    Some others are indifferent to the border opening.

    An old lady in a bakery in Zittau told Xinhua that she did not know exactly when the borders were open.

    Scholars have their own observations.

    "This is a profound step for European integration," said Sebastian Bersick, an expert on international relations from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

    Compared with European integration, problems like theft and illegal immigration are smaller and can be resolved with the passage of time, he said.

    "This sent a signal to the new EU member states that they are equal in the European Community and the people are feeling 'we are the same in the community,'" he said.

    A recent poll by the European Commission showed that 48 percent of EU citizens believe the EU is more capable of resolving problems than their national governments, while merely 30 percent trusted their government more.

    "I'm afraid more people will trust the (European) Union following the Schengen enlargement," Bersick said.

Editor: Song Shutao
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