Police warning as politicians hail open borders
By Harry de Quetteville in Frankfurt Oder
Last Updated: 1:45am GMT 21/12/2007
European leaders are to take down border posts across the continent, as the passport-free Schengen zone is extended to nine former Eastern bloc countries.
The Schengen zone: a timeline
But while politicians have begun three days of celebrations, police forces have given warning that the move will hamper the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration.
The festivities kicked off when Alfred Gusenbauer, the Austrian chancellor, and Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, ceremonially demolished a border post between their two countries.
The new regulations officially came into effect from twelve midnight on Thursday night, when Poland's eastern border became a large part of the new Schengen frontier. West of it, passport controls are to be torn down.
The prospect has caused uproar among German police on their country's border with Poland at Frankfurt Oder, which until now has marked the outer limit of the Schengen zone.
They fear that Poland's security forces will be overwhelmed by the new arrangement.
“The Poles are doing their best, but the task is impossible,” said Lars Wendland, a spokesman for a union of border police at Frankfurt Oder.
“Schengen will increase illegal immigration massively here. Our motto is Free Entry: Yes. Crime and Terror: No.”
German border police, many in uniform, have already held protests against the German authorities, who are cutting security staff on the border zone with Poland by almost half, to 1,250 officers. Their protests have been supported by their Polish counterparts, who are meant to be enforcing the new Schengen zone.
In a letter to German border police, Polish officers claim to “understand your [German police] fears regarding the major restructuring of the border police at the German Eastern frontier”.
“We also share your worries about an uncontrolled influx of terrorism and crime, which will no doubt represent a danger for the establishment of a 'new European order' in the framework of the Schengen treaty.”
The joint concerns of the German and Polish police forces are reinforced by worries over the Schengen II computer system, which is intended to provide detailed information on those crossing the border to member police forces.
“We were promised by the EU that we would only open borders if the Schengen II database had been established,” said Mr Wendland. “But it's not running yet.”
The officials' fears, coupled with the scaling back of Germany's own border police, have left some residents of Frankfurt Oder in a state of panic.
From today, the narrow concrete grey and blue bridge that spans the river Oder and links Frankfurt with the Polish town of Slubice will lose its array of passport booths and vehicle checkpoints.
The steady traffic between the two sides seems placid and friendly.
But both Poles and Germans worry about the future under Schengen.
“For most people here, the border has functioned as a kind of security filter,” said Jolanta Pekowska, a Polish woman who has lived in Frankfurt for six years.
“I wouldn't mind if the border controls were kept up, to the contrary.”
Joerg Vogelsaenger, Frankfurt Oder's MP, said that border controls would in effect have to be replicated, but deeper into German territory, making them harder to carry out.