Letter: Passports to chaos

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The Independent Culture
Sir: "Why do we need them?" you ask in reporting the passport queues (30 June). You quote the Home Office as saying that passports serve as proof of identity.

Well, yes. But the main reason for needing a passport for travel inside the European Union is that Britain has refused to join the passport-free zone (the "Schengen Group") that has removed all barriers to travel between the continental EU countries.

Belgians, Germans, Austrians and citizens of the other "Schengen" countries who want to spend their holidays in Spain of Greece can just up and go: they need neither passports nor identity cards when they arrive.

As would-be holidaymakers queueing for passports are now discovering, the UK's opt-out on this issue is costing them dear in terms of time, patience and money. It's also serving to remind them once again that the British are not quite as European as other Europeans: everyone else can cross Euro-borders without formality, but we can't.

If the UK government wishes to make life easier for everyone, and save its own citizens time, trouble and cash, it's free to join the passport- free zone whenever it wishes. There's a lot of talk about making Europe a "reality" for its citizens. This is one initiative that has done just that - for those who are able to benefit from it.

CHRIS PIENING

Head, European Parliament Office

London SW1

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