At midnight on 20 December Hungarian border guards will pack up their bags on the frontiers with Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia and thereafter anyone can pass without let or hindrance. Hungary along with Malta, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltic states will join the Schengen agreement making possible unimpeded land travel across most of the EU plus Norway and Iceland. (Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Cyprus will join Schengen later.)
All of this contrasts sharply with the control freaks in London. Last summer witnessing the ‘border’ with France at Ashford international railway station, I was reminded of Berlin’s former Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. Not only will border controls be maintained, but they will be reinforced with details kept of everybody entering and leaving the UK. Ireland, to retain its travel free arrangements with Britain, is effectively debarred from Schengen.
One could argue that this British paranoia is driven by its island geography, except for the fact that Iceland, Malta and Cyprus are Schengen members or candidates. Much more of a factor is the cynical motive of the London government to stress the ‘threat to Britain’ and then to be seen to be ‘tough’ by imposing stricter border controls. Gordon Brown hopes that this kind of jingoism will garner his failing New Labour government popular support.