Professor Bronisław Geremek carried his dream of a free Poland in a reunited Europe from the Gdansk shipyards to the Polish national assembly, and then Foreign Ministry. As a Member of the European Parliament, he dedicated his mandate to “make Europe and Europeans” a daily reality. In December 2007, on the occasion of the accession to the Schengen area of nine of the ten new members states of the 2004 EU-enlargement, Geremek was invited to deliver a speech in Luxembourg to celebrate this historical moment. This is the written text from which he spoke.

The enlargement of the Schengen Area: a historic and moving moment

A few days ago, European Union member states signed a new treaty in Lisbon. Despite its opaque and obscure form, this treaty makes it possible to save the essential measures included in the defunct constitutional treaty for a “more democratic, transparent and efficient” European Union. It is clear that notwithstanding its constitutional crisis and the problem of resurgent national self-interest over the last decade, the EU has in fact managed to show its own citizens and its external partners that, despite everything, it still wants to continue down the road towards stronger political integration and construction of what might be considered a common destiny.

In a few days from now, 9 of the 10 countries that joined the European Union in 2004 will be included in “Schengen” in a practical and concrete way. But what is Schengen? It is a village and a commune in the south-east of Luxembourg, near the triple border between Germany, France and Luxembourg. This village became famous on 14th June 1985, when a treaty on the abolition of European border controls was signed there (symbolically, on a boat anchored on the River Moselle, which links the three countries). The Schengen Agreement abolishes identity controls at borders between signatory countries, among other measures.

The borderless territory thus created is widely known as the “Schengen Area”. This area, which will shortly grow by 60 million inhabitants and more than half a million km² (that is to say by 15% in area and 18% in population), is made up of the states that have adopted the “Schengen acquis” in full. These states:

  • Have removed their internal EU border controls.
  • Apply the Borders Code to external EU borders.
  • Provide visas that are valid for the Schengen Area.
  • Accept the validity of visas provided by other Schengen states for entry to their territory.


These signatory countries apply a common policy regarding visas and they have strengthened controls at borders with countries outside the area. All European Union citizens can come and go within this area without having to show their papers at any borders whatsoever.

One must appreciate what this moment means for millions of Europeans from countries that were previously under totalitarian Soviet domination. For them, and for us, for a long time travelling abroad was one of the most difficult things to do. Just 20 years ago freedom of movement was restricted and controlled by the government. It was the authorities who decided who could have a passport and who could not – and this passport had to be handed back on return. It was also rare for couples or families to be allowed to travel together, as this was a good way of ensuring that those who went abroad would return.

None of us had ever experienced what it is like to walk freely along the Baltic coast without knowing if you have already crossed over to Germany or if you are still in Poland, or to pass from Poland to Slovakia along the paths of the Bieszczady Mountains without even realising it. However, from 21st December, there will no longer be any distinction between the German and Polish areas of the beach, between the Austrian and Hungarian side of Lake Neusiedl. It has been announced that in the Tatra Mountains, the two local Polish and Slovakian mayors have decided to celebrate the event by jointly chopping down the barrier that used to symbolise the border between the two countries.

It is an important moment that marks the recognition of full European citizenship for all Europeans from Central and Eastern Europe. The Czech chronicler Adam Černý explains in Hospodarské Noviny on 6th December that “abolition of border controls has a symbolic value. Only when Czechs, Poles or Slovaks can go to Germany without any problem will they no longer feel like second-class EU citizens.”

What the Schengen Area is creating is a common space for everyone, a big European home, where everyone can move freely from one area to another.

A common home for all Europeans

If everything has been set up so that this expansion of the Schengen Area of free travel can take place before the Christmas and New Year holidays, this is no innocent coincidence. Indeed, this is precisely the time when everyone who is far away, everyone who has gone away to work far from their home towns and their families, come home to see their loved ones. For many people who are driving or travelling by bus or train this will be the first time that they do not have to stop to show their identity papers when they leave Germany, Austria or Italy to go home. For them it really won’t seem like they are leaving their home or returning to it. There will hardly be any difference between being “at home” or “abroad”.

What the Schengen Area is creating is a common space for everyone, a big European home, where everyone can move freely from one area to another. The Schengen Area is possible because the citizens of its member states feel entirely European.

Personal freedom of movement is one of the great promises of the project of European integration. The European project is certainly a plan for shared peace and prosperity. However, it is also a plan that is based on freedom: the Four Freedoms are freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and, first and foremost, people. There was a time when Europe was already seen as an area with freedom of movement by some Europeans – the networks of pilgrims, monks, merchants and students created a common area. For a small number of people, often belonging to religious, aristocratic, merchant or academic elites, Europe was a reality. It was an area where they could move around freely without having to deal with any obstacles other than distance, the elements, bandits or the dangers of the road. Now this reality, which originated in the Middle Ages, is being reborn. Europe is not just built by treaties and the work of the EU institutions. It is also built by people, by citizens, through the constant movement of students, teachers and professors, businessmen and representatives, national and international civil servants and workers. This includes all types of workers from Czech engineers to Polish plumbers, from Slovakian nurses to Estonian IT workers, and so on.

The principle of personal freedom of movement is fundamental to European integration. It has existed since the creation of the European Community in 1957. It was initially introduced for economic reasons, as this right was linked to the status of salaried workers and it was included in the broad framework of a new common market based on free circulation of capital, goods and services. However it was subsequently extended to freelancers and service providers. Family members also enjoyed the same right. Ultimately, this right was understood to apply for all categories of citizen.

Three European Commission directives, which were adopted in the 1990s, guarantee the right of residence for categories of people other than workers: retired people, students and those not in employment. In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of European Union citizenship, giving all EU citizens the fundamental personal right to freedom of movement and residency regardless of economic activity. Then the Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed in 1997 and came into force in 1999, further strengthened the rights of European Union citizens, specifically including the Schengen Agreement.

This was not the first time in modern European history that an attempt had been made to reduce the borders between states. As early as 1944, for example, the Benelux countries decided to join their territories together by abolishing their internal borders. In 1954, the Scandinavian countries created a common passport for the Nordic Union, enabling all citizens of the three countries to move around freely within the common Nordic area (this area was later extended to include Iceland and Finland in 1965). These attempts to abolish borders and the creation of these free travel areas for citizens are valuable because they recognise a shared destiny and common belonging. They demonstrate that people feel they share a common territory, history and future. They also often demonstrate a shared identity. Certainly there are differences between people from Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, but by creating Benelux they declared that what unites them is stronger than what divides them. Certainly there are differences between people from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, and sometimes their situations have been markedly different – these five countries have never shared membership of the European Union. However the Nordic Union and its free travel area show that they recognise a certain shared Scandinavian identity among the member countries.

During his two terms of office as head of the European Commission, from 1985 to 1995, Jacques Delors rightly focused his work and his efforts to build a united Europe on specific aspects of the “single market”: he developed a plan to build European identity, which often relied on the “Four Freedoms” and helped an emotional bond to grow. Indeed creating an area with freedom of movement is a strong affirmation and territorial confirmation that what unites the peoples in question is more significant that what divides them. If people can feel at home anywhere in Europe and travel there with no constraints other than distance, one can start to talk about a feeling of belonging in Europe, and ultimately about a European identity.

The borders of Europe – Schengen and the danger of a “fortress Europe”

The “European home” is growing. The enlargement of the Schengen Area, three and a half years after the great enlargement – the EU’s “big bang” – marks a new stage in the process of building a joint sense of belonging in Europe among all Europeans. However, this historical and moving event must necessarily pose some tough questions for the European Union, notably the question of borders.

This is because removing the internal borders in this large free travel area means strengthening the external borders of the Schengen Area. Seven countries on the eastern border of the EU have joined Schengen (the Czech Republic only has internal borders with the EU and Malta is an island, so the changes are less striking). This places pressure on their external borders from all those who want to enter the territory where the Four Freedoms apply. Removing internal borders clearly implies the need to strengthen external borders and apply a common policy for granting visas. This means that Poland and other countries must comply with this common policy and make changes to their visa policies with their neighbours. President Yushchenko has repeatedly voiced the strong sentiment increasingly in recent times that he thinks a wall will be built between his country and the European Union from the time of the Schengen extension. This sense of exclusion is felt very keenly along the length of the external border of the EU, from Ceuta and Melilla, where images of prospective immigrants storming fences in 2005 are still concerning, to Lvov or Grodno.

The feeling that there is a Fortress Europe is strongly held and borne out by the striking images mentioned above, even if the reality is sometimes less clear-cut. Studies show the extent to which Central European countries are also becoming targets for immigration: it is estimated that half a million Ukrainians work in Poland, and 100 – 200,000 in the Czech Republic. This means that the borders of the European Union are not so impervious.

Borders delimit territories, marking the line between them and us – they both create and highlight differences.

Security for the new external EU border poses a serious problem: a 97-kilometre stretch of the border separating Slovakia and Ukraine runs through the Carpathian Mountains. A number of undocumented immigrants who want to reach the EU via Eastern Europe choose this border crossing. Also, people across the region are increasingly sensitive to the fact that the new Schengen border does not just exclude undocumented immigrants but also neighbours from the east, with whom there is a long tradition of trade.

In some ways, this demand for impervious borders is the price of convincing the countries of Western Europe that the eastern border of the EU is not just an immense open door. For them not to worry about catching cold, they must be confident and they must receive assurances that the door will stay closed. A “new iron curtain” is a very strong expression that shows a certain level of ambivalence and mixed feelings about the expansion of the Schengen border. The question of European Union borders is still a hot topic. The debate about borders is a debate about the European area and territory – and it is also a debate about European identity. Let us not forget that removing internal borders in the EU clearly recognises that all citizens of the states in question belong to the same area and that they share a common identity. Borders delimit territories, marking the line between them and us – they both create and highlight differences.

In this context, Europe is currently split between the “geography of values” and the “value of geography”, as Dominique Moïsi so neatly put it. The theoretical debate about European borders and identity is further complicated pragmatically when one tries to define which borders are the most appropriate to ensure vital political and social cohesion within the EU and true external consistency in relations with the rest of the world. Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that the debate is in fact a debate about the European project. One reaches an impasse on this subject if one forgets the principles on which the project and identity of a united Europe are built: freedom and an open society.

The expansion of the Schengen Area is not finished – Cyprus and the countries on the Black Sea coast are yet to come, not to mention the British Isles, and finally the countries that will join the European Union over coming decades. However, the stage to be carried out on 21st December 2007 is a step of great historical significance and symbolic value, as it is one of the most tangible and significant successes of European integration, the value and scope of which can be experienced directly by all EU citizens in their daily lives. It is an important milestone on the road to a European identity.

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