Tangent: Europe becoming passport-free. Contrast with Japan.


Hi Blog. Here’s evidence that other countries are putting up less immigration controls, not more (unlike Japan with its new fingerprinting policy, justified on overtly xenophobic grounds). Yes, the article mentions that border controls are toughening outside the Schengen Zone, but it’s still an amazing feat to be able to drive from Estonia to Portugal without a single passport check. Or, despite the multitude of languages, cultures, and differences in standard of living, fingerprinting at any border.

America should also take note (and I do believe it will within the next few years, given the rising voices talking about the damage being done the US by ludicrously tough border controls). So should Japan, which is taking advantage of things to go even farther.

Sure, I hear the counterarguments–Japan’s “shimaguni” island society and all that. But do you think that being surrounded by an ocean makes you insular and impregnable? It arguably easier to sneak into Japan than into landlocked countries! Which shows how even more useless these border controls are–when anyone who really wants to get in here surreptitiously just has to pay a boatman and then hop a rubber dinghy. More and more, Japan’s fingerprint policy just seems a useless taxpayer boondoggle. As does the American.

But I digress. Back to Europe. Debito in Sapporo

Passport-free zone envelops Europe
By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail (Canada)
December 21, 2007 at 1:02 AM EST

Courtesy Monty DiPietro

PHOTO: Fireworks illuminate the border bridge between Poland and Germany in Frankfurt on Oder early Friday morning. A minute after midnight the European Union’s border-free zone is extended to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. People from these nations can travel to the existing 15 states of the ‘Schengen’ border-free zone without having to show their passports. (Johannes Eisele/Reuters)

LONDON — As midnight approached in the centre of Europe yesterday, hundreds of border guards left their posts for good and began tearing down the last remains of the old Iron Curtain.

At the border of Germany and Poland, the guards spent the day removing kilometres of tall steel fence, leaving unmarked and unguarded fields between the two once hostile nations. On the road between Vienna and Bratislava, Austrian and Slovakian leaders met to saw through border-crossing barriers. In Estonia, the government put its border-inspection stations up for auction.

This morning, for the first time in history, you can drive from the Russian border in Estonia to the Atlantic beaches of Portugal, across 24 countries, without encountering a single border crossing or having to show your passport at any point.

For the people who live inside the core countries of the European Union and especially in the old Eastern Bloc, today marks a historic moment, the long-awaited expansion of the EU’s Schengen zone, a huge space, named for the Luxembourg town where it was first devised, in which national borders have been eliminated and 400 million people are treated as citizens of a single country.

The addition of nine new countries to this borderless zone today, eight of them formerly Communist members of the old Warsaw Pact, means that the distinction between the “old” and the “new” Europe is beginning to vanish and freedom of movement is expected to create an economic boom as eastern workers continue to move westward and carry their earnings back home.

“A freedom is being restored which this country has been wanting for a hundred years,” Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom said last night as he opened his country’s borders to Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia. Residents of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who have been isolated since Czechoslovakia split apart in 1993, were delighted to discover last night that they no longer have a border between them.

So there was a mood of celebration yesterday inside Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta. But in the countries that now find themselves outside the borders of this free-living enclave, the mood was considerably different.

In Ukraine and Belarus, citizens made panicked last-minute shopping forays into Slovakia and Poland yesterday, loading their cars with meat, clothing, liquor, cigarettes, Christmas presents and automobile parts. The wait at the Poland-Belarus border, until last night a relatively lax crossing, was several hours long, with lines of cars and trucks backed up for dozens of kilometres.

As they crossed back eastward, it was easy to understand the alarm: Along a suddenly fortress-like border, hundreds of new border guards, equipped with high-technology surveillance equipment, were busy setting up a security cordon that has been two years in the planning and will make it far more difficult to enter Europe.

A 679-kilometre steel fence has been erected along the border of Belarus. Armed, fast-moving squads, known as Rapid Border Intervention Teams, monitor surveillance data. In eastern Slovakia, a large detention centre has been constructed along the Ukrainian border; it already houses dozens of people from as far away as Ghana who have recently tried to slip into Europe through this mountainous, sparsely populated frontier. It has room for hundreds more.

“It’s going to be a new Iron Curtain for all intents and purposes,” Samuel Horkay, a Ukrainian citizen who has discovered that it will be much harder to visit his mother in neighbouring Hungary, told the Bloomberg news agency yesterday. “That’s a strong way to put it, but Europe loves to guard its borders.”

That is the central paradox that lies behind today’s celebrations: Even as Europe is turning its national borders into historical footnotes — European Union countries currently have fewer independent powers, in most areas, than Canadian provinces do — the 27-nation federation is making entry from outside the EU far more difficult.

While the continent’s booming economies in places like Spain, Ireland and Britain (the latter two are not part of the Schengen zone) are hungrily trying to grab as many immigrants as they can in both skilled and unskilled fields, in order to fill hundreds of thousands of job vacancies, other countries such as France and Italy are facing unemployment and political crises over immigration. On the whole, there is a growing Western European consensus against non-European immigration.

While the borders are being toughened, many European citizens fear that the expansion of the Schengen zone will lead to increases in human trafficking, undocumented immigration and smuggling. One poll showed that 75 per cent of Austrian citizens are opposed to the expansion.

And the official responsible for Europe’s new high-security external borders, Ilkka Laitinen of the EU’s Warsaw-based Frontex border agency, agreed that freedom of movement is going to make it harder to control who lives in Europe, regardless of the level of border security. “It is a deliberate choice of the European Union to focus more on the free movement of persons than on security aspects,” he said.

8 comments on “Tangent: Europe becoming passport-free. Contrast with Japan.

  • I personally don’t think Japan and Europe are really all that comparable. I tend to look at the ever-growing EU as similar to the State system in the US or the Province system in Canada. The removal of passport checks will further the growth of European businesses and make it easier for people to travel around and increase the currency flow. The countries are all using the Euro which already sets up the ground work for this in the first place.

    To give a different example, let’s say Korea and Japan both used the yen (or yuan) already and wanted to improve business connections between the two countries. To do this, the two governments make it possible to head to either country without using a passport. Heck, you could even through in China and make it the Asian Union. When the countries are connected by a constitution, it makes less sense to keep the participating bodies separated from each other.


  • Good news, as it brings us closer to the worldwide secular government with no borders and no passports that we all need.
    In Star Trek, Australia was the last country to join the world government. Want to bet that in reality, it will be Japan?

  • Entering the UK (one of the non-Schengen EU countries) at a big London airport the other week, I saw a large poster consisting of a fingerprint and a warning along the lines that “you may be fingerprinted if your visa requires it”. While this won’t affect EU citizens or citizens of those countries able to enter on a short-term basis without a visa, I get the impression the UK is moving towards much severer restrictions on citizens of other countries.

  • Philip Martin says:

    In reply to “Kimpatsu,” I would not bet a single yen on Japan being the last government to join “the world government.” That distinction would surely rest with the United States, assuming, of course that the “world government” would be in any real sense of the word “democratic.” As the US voting record in the United Nations shows, as well as the anti-democratic nature of all the global institutions set up primarily by the United States since the final chapters of WWII (the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN itself to a lesser degree), no nation has more consistently acted out of pure self-interest and to the detriment of democracy everywhere, which is to say, to the detriment of global democracy, than the United States. There is no reason to think that this well-worn pattern would change.

    Incidentally, some excellent advice on how a democratic world government could be constructed in such a way that the U.S. would eventually be dragged into recognizing its legitimacy is spelled out by George Monbiot, a Guardian journalist, in his book Manifesto for a New World Order. Short on holiday reading? I highly recommend Monbiot’s well-written work.

  • This is the greatest moment after Cold war. I remember 10 years ago going by bus from Poland to Belgium. We spent 3h on the border!!! It was 3 a.m. They took our passports, checked and stamped, but it`s past. I use my passport only in non-EU countries, mostly in/out Japan that`s it. When arriving in Europe I go through immigration with my EU ID. My Japanese wife unfortunately need to get her stamp, but it`s piece of cake. It`s funny how J-people look at me not having passport in my hand.

  • @Philip Martin:
    The US would happily join a one-world government if they could head it. Japan would shut itself out of any and all such dealings.
    I liked Monbiot’s Captive State, though. I take it you read his weekly Guardian column?

  • Philip Martin says:

    Nice to see you’ve read Monbiot. I’ve not yet read Captive State (on the corporate takeover of Britain), but I do read Monbiot’s articles and am currently reading his work on solutions to global warming (HEAT: How to stop the planet burning), which is another remarkable effort from him.

  • The US may get passport-free travel in North America in a few years. It’s just a question of getting a national ID card in place for the North American Union that the power elite want. In the meantime, commoners and businesses will have to put up with so much crap at borders that we’ll beg for a solution. Just more of the problem-reaction-solution Hegelianism that we’ve suffered through for quite some time.

    In any case, we have to be careful that a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere isn’t created under the pretext of an East Asian Union. As the EU is starting to get tyrannical, so, too, could any similar arrangement in Asia.


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