EU's border-free zone hobbles into place hobbles into action

TONY BARBER

Europe Editor

The Schengen agreement, the ambitious European Union plan to abolish internal border controls among member countries, limps into effect today like a sprinter shot in the leg. The man who fired the bullet is President Jacques Chirac of France.

France's last-minute decision on Thursday not to join Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in allowing passport-free travel among themselves indicates Mr Chirac's sympathy for the Government's argument that the project will lead to more crime and illegal immigration. It also underlines Mr Chirac's determination to stick up for French national interests even at the expense of EU harmony.

France's allies are none too happy about the measure. The Belgian Prime Minister, Jean-Luc Dehaene, fired out a public statement saying he deplored the French action. Germany and the Netherlands adamantly rejected France's request for a six-month delay in implementing the agreement.

However, the Schengen convention is by no means dead. From now on, if all other six countries play by the rules, no officials will request identity papers from a traveller driving, say, from Brussels to Cologne or flying from Madrid to Lisbon.

Moreover, the European Commission intends to publish plans next month for the removal of all other EU internal borders. Two non-EU countries, Iceland and Norway, are to open talks on joining the Schengen group so that they can maintain their 40-year-old passport union with the EU's Nordic members.

Still, the French announcement was a blow to the Schengen initiative and to the ideal of ever closer European unity that lies at its heart. It made clear that France's newly elected Gaullist leaders do not intend to be pushed into agreements that they suspect might harm the country and undermine their standing with French voters.

In defence of the French government's decision Alain Juppe, the Prime Minister, said: "The way visas are issued by the consulates of our partners around the world does not permit us to verify that we are not taking in undesirable illegal immigrants."

French officials complained that in April and May, shortly after the Schengen agreement took effect for a three-month trial period, drug seizures in northern France had risen by 58 per cent. French police blame liberal attitudes towards drugs in the Netherlands, a view that has provoked indignation in the Dutch press.

A French document, submitted to an EU ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday, contended that four of the seven Schengen countries had failed to report any stolen identity papers or banknotes. Out of 581 asylum-seekers arriving illegally in France from other Schengen states, only 2 per cent had been taken back by the country of origin.

Supporters of the Schengen agreement say it is wrong to blame it for illegal immigration, since Schengen's aim is actually to tighten the EU's external borders with non-EU states while removing internal frontiers. .

However, even Schengen enthusiasts acknowledge that there is a growing immigration problem in, for example, Italy, which has signed the agreement without yet implementing it. Large numbers of illegal immigrants from eastern Europe, the Middle East and beyond are crossing from Albania into Italy.

The Government, always uncomfortable with the practical implications of Schengen, is likely to welcome the French decision as proof of a growing closeness of views between London and Paris since Mr Chirac took over last month. However, French officials said their action should not be misinterpreted. "Our aim is not to kill the Schengen accords, but to apply them properly," said an aide to Mr Juppe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices