Meeting participants got their fill of background knowledge about the Schengen Agreement, and towards the end of the meeting it was thrown open to questions from the floor. Foto: Bettina Johannsen Soto
The Schengen Agreement gets an airing in the S2017 store
What do the Schengen Agreement and the open borders it entails mean for Europe?
This question was on the agenda recently in the S2017 store in Sønderborg at the third We Are Europe event organised by SDU student Nicolae Balc who works in the cultural capital project’s international team and comes from Romania.
This time the speaker was a Portuguese European, namely Martin Guillermo. He’s the general secretary of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), an association that has existed for more than 40 years and which is now intensifying its cultural activities, amongst other things through working with European cultural capitals and candidates.
Unsurprisingly, Guillermo is an enthusiastic supporter of the Schengen Agreement, something which makes life much easier for the inhabitants of border regions, for example those living in one country and working in another. In actual fact, and as Guillermo pointed out, it was only in 1914 that border controls were introduced in Europe.
Denmark hinders integration
The Danish government’s decision of spring 2011 to introduce permanent customs checks at the Danish border is high up on the general secretary’s list of factors preventing the Schengen Agreement from working effectively. Since the change of government, however, the decision to introduce them has been reversed.
”But while they were in place a lot of criminality was detected including both drug smuggling and human trafficking,” said one of the meeting participants when the floor was opened for questions at the end of the meeting.
”Customs officers are good at spotting criminals. So the border is a good place to stop them,” commented another.
In reply, Guillermo pointed out that that type of criminality often originates from countries outside the EU, and that it is financially-motivated. In order to fight it, what’s needed is closer strategic cooperation between EU countries:
”It’s also my belief that media hysteria is behind a lot of these stories and that it’s actually not a significant problem,” he said.
Diversity is an advantage
In any case, and according to the general secretary, the advantages of open borders outweigh the disadvantages. What’s more, having open borders doesn’t mean treating everyone alike, quite the opposite in fact. In his view, it’s important for Europe to exploit its diversities better, especially in a time when Asian countries and others are experiencing rapid growth.
”Culture hasn’t really been that important to AEBR up to now, but we’re changing that. Cultures are growing and changing in European border regions every single day. Culture is often the sphere within which relationships are built. Culture can help bring down psychological barriers, and Europe still has plenty of those. Language is another barrier. That’s why it’s important to start joint projects in areas like culture and education.”
The Schengen Agreement was introduced between 1985 and 1990. The agreement’s objective was and remains to remove European border posts and border controls within the Schengen area as well as harmonising external border control procedures.
There were five signatories to the original agreement (Belgium, France, Holland, Luxembourg and West Germany). On 19 June 1990 these countries entered into a further agreement, the Schengen convention. Denmark has participated in the Schengen Agreement since 25 March 2001.
The Danish government decided on 11 May 2011 to reintroduce permanent customs checks at the Danish border. This decision was, however, reversed after the new government took power in 2011.
Today, 26 countries participate in the Schengen area.
A large number of international students from both Sønderborg and Flensburg were in attendance.
Everyone is welcome to visit the 2017 store. Visitors can learn about S2017 as well as perusing the application document, as these meeting participants are doing.