Eastward Schengen expansion to have ‘minimal’ impact on France

Finance minister Scholz has presented a bill to give German customs more employees and powers.

The extension of the Schengen zone to include the newest EU members from Central and Eastern Europe has not revived fears of a renewed influx of “Polish plumbers” in France, EURACTIV France reports.

The ‘Schengen’ area of passport-free travel within the European mainland is to be extended on 21 December to include the Central and Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. The first phase sees land and sea border checks between the original fifteen members and the new countries formally abolished, though controls at airports will not be lifted until 30 March next year. 

But the abolition of border controls between the new countries and the previous members of the zone appears set to have little impact on France, experts said. 

The present agreement was signed in 1985 and abolished border checks between thirteen EU member states (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden) as well as Norway and Iceland. 

The eastward expansion of the border-free zone had revived fears that a renewed influx of foreigners, similar to that which followed the enlargement of the Union itself, would have implications for crime and terrorism. Speaking at the end of September, French Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie expressed her view that “the abolition of internal borders benefits European citizens, but at the same time engenders a certain number of risks”. 

But Susanne Nies, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), told EURACTIV France that such fears were more evident in Germany or Austria, and said the French have “no reason to be scared” because strengthened border checks at the edges of the Schengen zone mean that its enlargement has “no negative effects” for France. 

Nies stressed that the zone’s main aim is to facilitate the free movement of people between its members rather than workers, who actually fall under the remit of member states’ respective labour market policies. 

By entering the Schengen area, the new members will also introduce the latest model of the Schengen Information System, known as “SIS II”, initially regarded as a condition of their inclusion in the zone. It had been expected to be up and running by the beginning of 2007, but technical difficulties delayed its implementation, now expected at the end of 2008. 

Nies believes that the extension of the Schengen zone will have “minimal” impact on France. Indeed, she asserts that migratory trends are changing, and highlights the Central and Eastern European member states’ evolution from “countries of emigration to countries of immigration”. 

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