Europe's unbounded Schengen joy
As of midnight the Schengen treaty was expanded to include 9 of the 10 countries in eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004. "Borderless" Europe now encompasses 400 million people.
by Paul Kieffer
At the stroke of midnight nine eastern European countries joined the European Union's Schengen treaty, which allows Europeans to travel from one Schengen country to another without border formalities. The EU "Schengen zone" now extends from Russia and the Ukraine all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
German chancellor Angela Merkel described the opening of Germany's borders with Poland and the Czech Republic as an historic occasion. She and the Polish and Czech prime ministers attended a special ceremony today as the border was opened at the "three country corner" where the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland intersect. Thousands of Europeans were up early to enjoy their new freedom to visit a neighboring EU country without lengthy delays at the border because of passport formalities.
The Schengen zone now encompasses 24 of the EU's 27 members, representing 400 million people. The extension of the Schengen zone eastward is another milestone in the slow but sure march to European unity and a further confirmation of the unification of Europe following the end of the Cold War.
Each Schengen country has the responsibility to provide border controls for its non-Schengen external borders. In exchange for fulfilling this obligation, there are no border or immigration controls on the movement of people within the Schengen zone when they travel from one Schengen country directly to another. Some Germans have expressed concern that opening Germany's eastern border to its EU neighbors will lead to an increase in crime. German interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble disagrees. The Schengen treaty allows each country's border police to undertake on-the-spot passport examinations in an 18 mile zone along the border. According to Schäuble, the allowance will more than compensate for formalities at the border crossings themselves. In addition, the new Schengen members in eastern Europe are eager to demonstrate to older Schengen members in western Europe that their police and border patrols are capable of guarding Schengen's exterior borders. Electronic cooperation among the police jurisdictions within Europe has also improved continuously in recent years, enabling closer monitoring of criminal activities.
Schäuble and other leaders believe that the extension of the Schengen zone will provide an economic benefit to border areas previously hindered in their development by border formalities. The Schengen treaty facilitates the movement of people and goods within the Schengen zone, which is why the treaty's extension eastward is being called another milestone in freedom for EU citizens.
For Russians, however, the Schengen border could be a problem. According to the "Pravda" newspaper, "the visa issue restricts the life of millions of people. Lithuania and Poland joining the Schengen treaty serve as examples, since it is now considerably more difficult to travel by car from Kaliningrad into the Russian heartland. The EU and its individual members will use the visa situation to put pressure on Russia." Russia is currently negotiating in Brussels on easing visa requirements for Russians desiring to visit the EU.
On the other hand, the eastward expansion of the Schengen zone brings "borderless" Europe closer to Asian markets, a key trading area for the European Union. Slovakia’s second largest city, Kosice, is already gearing up for expanded railway traffic with the east. Located not far from Slovakia’s border with the Ukraine, Kosice is a western termination point for the wide-gauge Russian railway system. With funding from Brussels, Kosice wants to develop a logistics center for rail freight between the EU and the east. Using Kosice as an entry port for freight, Asian goods would have immediate access to any point within the Schengen zone.
In the other direction freight containers shipped from Germany via Kosice to China, Korea or Japan would arrive an average of 20 days earlier than via sea routes. In fact, major east-west rail lines from western Europe to Moscow, Kiev and destinations further to the east run through Kosice. Zuzana Bobrikova, Kosice’s director of economic development, explains the city’s unique position within the Schengen zone: "We are connected to the railway system for all of Asia."
The development of a high-speed Russian railway system make Kosice’s ambitious plan to capitalize on the extension of the Schengen zone look realistic. At the 2005 Hanover trade fair – the largest in the world – Germany and Russia signed an historic contract for German company Siemens to manufacture 60 ICE high-speed trains for Russia. Russia's attempts for some 30 years to build its own high-speed railway system have met repeated setbacks and failures. Siemens' 3rd generation ICE travels within Germany at speeds up to 170 mph and will be a major step forward for Russia with its with long routes. The first ICE to run in Russia will be used on the 450 mile route between St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The enlarged Schengen zone will further strengthen the European Union’s position as the world’s largest trading block. The EU’s trade with non-EU countries already makes up 20 percent of world trade (inner-EU trade not included). The EU’s world share of trade in service industries stands at 26 percent. EU trade with developing countries is perhaps the most remarkable aspect the picture. According to United Nations definitions, the EU accounts for 50 percent of all trade with developing countries (DC) and 60 percent of trade with the world’s "less developed countries" (LDC).
The Bible predicts a final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, which like its predecessors will be centered in Europe. The Bible calls that end-time political-religious system "Babylon the Great." It will also be a great trading system, reflecting the competitive orientation of its real power behind the scene, Satan the devil (Ezekiel 28:18). Revelation 18 describes in detail the extent of end-time Babylon’s world trade and the reaction of merchants when that system falls: "And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more" (Revelation 18:11).
In view of the scope of its worldwide trade, the demise of the European Union would certainly evoke that kind of response from merchants all over the world. The extension of the Schengen zone will further entrench Europe as the king of world trade. Firmly entrenched at the geographic center of the Schengen zone is the undisputed king of EU foreign trade: Germany.
• Paul Kieffer, December 21, 2007