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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Looming xenophobia in Europe is threatening the spirit of the Schengen-agreement: one of the definite pillars of the European Union

If I had to point out something that has brought tremendous prosperity, ‘momentum’ and a feeling of interconnectedness to the European Union and its citizens, it would be the Schengen treaty. This agreement, effectuated in 1992, ordered that all borders and countries should be open for traffic of people, services and goods from all other countries of the European Union.

The effect of this agreement was enormous:
  • No more queue’s of waiting passenger cars, wanting to pass customs. 
  • No more totally unpacking your car during a holiday, because it had a dent, making it looking ‘suspicious’ 
  •  Especially no more colored people that always ‘incidently’ were asked to show their passport. 
  • No more need for truck drivers to have a zillion forms and permits, when travelling from f.i. the Port of Rotterdam to Vienna, Austria 
  • No more waiting for hours and hours at the border until some sleepy customs officer put stamp ‘21-B’ on form ‘ASP-X25’. 
    • There are still some form and permits to be shown, but this number is reduced heavily 
  • Having the possibility to work in Spain, Germany, Belgium or France without a work permit, just because you want to do so.

Schengen gave an enormous feeling of freedom and brotherhood in the European Union.

As you didn´t see a border anymore between your own country and your neighboring countries,  it felt like all those countries were like family.

The still hostile feelings of the Dutch against the German neighbour after the 2nd World War, disappeared quickly after the border controls between the countries were abolished.  They were replaced by a feeling of good neighbourship, as both neighbours were the biggest trading partners and best friends of one another. Did it have something to do with Schengen? I guess, yeah.

Due to the finished Cold War, Schengen and the rise of internet, the end of last century and the beginning of this century were under the sign of globalism and turbo capitalism.  

The common opinion of the wealthy parts of the population was: “Yes we can:
  • Earn a higher salary 
  • Drive a bigger car 
  • Purchase a bigger house 
  • Build a dream world of ever increasing profits and an ever growing economy, due to internet. 
  • Outsource our production lines to Eastern Europe, India and China and 
  • Execute our general, technical and transport services, using underpaid people from the Eastern Europe, the Middle-East and Africa in order to 
  • give our shareholders bigger dividends and thus generating more shareholder value.  

This change, however, had a serious blowback on the relatively poor and uneducated people in the European Union that previously executed these heavy, labour intensive and little-education-needed jobs.

These people had feelings of being victimized by the globalization, as they felt rejected by their former bosses, their future suddenly seemed bleak and their low-wage jobs were on the line, due to the entrance of lower-wage people from all around the world that took over their jobs, while the successful people gained higher salaries and bigger cars.
This development led to the rise of populism, as pragmatic and less scrupulous politicians saw in this an opportunity to become elected over the heads of the population of ‘have no so much’ people.

They did this by blaming:
  • The CEO’s and captains of industry (for being spongers) 
  • Europe and the European Union (for ‘not listening to the people’, being undemocratic and ‘being there only for the wealthy people’); 
  • The Islam (for wanting to overtake the Christian European society); 
  • The Turks and Moroccans and 
  • The East-European workers
These parties were the cause for all the problems and all things that went wrong, according to the populists. In reality a lot of those were in fact caused by excrescences of the turbo capitalism and globalization and a growing division under society. Instead of having an open look to the world, the countries under influence of populism looked more and more to themselves, as also the regular political parties adopted some of the populist themes in order to gain votes.

This effect was reinforced strongly in 2008 by the credit crisis. It lead to a more and more resentful culture and rising xenophobia. And this rising xenophobia is the cause that the spirit of Schengen is currently under heavy pressure. Today I want to show you how much pressure there is this, by showing some newspaper articles from Dutch newspapers De Volkskrant ( ) and De Telegraaf (, accompanied by my comments. 
Denmark is introducing border controls against East-European criminals (Volkskrant; link in Dutch) Denmark is reintroducing border controls. This was decided by the minority government and its support partner, the populistic Danish People´s Party. Finance Minister Claus Hjort Fredriksen announced the agreement today. With the border controls, Copenhagen wants to prevent that Eastern European criminals enter the country. As these controls are executed by customs officers and not by police agents, they are allowed according to Denmark. The country is a member of the Schengen treaty that arranges free traffic between European countries.

Criminals at the border are targeted (Telegraaf, link in Dutch) The Netherlands is very close to sneaking up on women´s traders, drugs couriers and people traffickers with a network of smart camera´s. As soon as criminals are entering our country, their license plates, color of their car and other characteristics registrated and forwarded to an advanced computer system. Hereafter the Royal Military Police can arrest them. This was told yesterday by Dutch Minister Gerd Leers (Asylum and Immigration) after talks with his European colleagues in Brussels. The new border security system, with the name Amigo Boras (Border Observation, Registration and Analysis System) is able to record patterns and trends in the border traffic and to recognize license plates and other characteristics, which supplies hundreds of extra eyes to the Royal Military Police.
 Leers was in the European capital to talk about the unrest around the Schengen zone. EU member states like France and Denmark want to reintroduce controls of the inner borders.
I strongly believe that the ´Eastern European’ or whatever criminal is the excuse for this utterance of the xenophobic wave in Denmark, France and The Netherlands. Of course there are Eastern European criminals in Denmark and The Netherland and there might be even a lot, although I seriously doubt it. But are there enough to close the borders or to put a complete web of cameras around it?

The same goes for the Tunesian refugees in France. These are chosen as the fall guys for introducing  an anti-Schengen movement, that is starting to become very unhealthy. 
Our own people First, according to young Belgians in Brussels (Volkskrant; link in Dutch)
 Anti-Semitism is not a dirty word for almost halve of the young muslims in Brussels. This became clear from an investigation of the Free University Brussels (VUB), that is published in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen. With native youngsters this opinion is only 10 per cent.
 `Worse is that those anti-Jewish feelings have nothing to do with a low level of education or social discrimination, in contrast with racist native people where both factors do play a role. The anti-Semitism is theologically inspired, and there is a straight connection between being Muslim and having anti-Semitist feelings´, according to VUB Sociologist Mark Elchardus.

The resentment between muslims on one side and gay, Jewish and Christian people on the other side was already looming for a long time, but it got momentum from the 9-11 attacks. Now these groups start to hate each other´s guts and the tone-of-voice and shown behavior  become more and more unfriendly and aggressive. The last thing we are looking for is a religious war within Europe, but all parties involved are on their way to one, if we don’t look out.

France wants to tax the holiday houses of Dutch people (Volkskrant; link in Dutch) France wants to tax the second residence of foreigners. Such an arrangement would especially target Dutch and British people that have a holiday house. According to the Ministry of Finance, people with a second home can make usage of local and national government service, while they don´t pay direct taxes and thus don´t make a contribution to the financing of facilities.

I don’t have so much problems with the fact that foreign people have to pay some taxes in the country of their second residence. But I would lie, if I said I don’t see a pattern here.

The fact is that I can understand why the Schengen treaty and Europe in general is under heavy pressure currently. This is a socionomic phenomenon that has everything to do with the credit crisis and the general negativity under the European people. This negative feeling is reinforced by the fact that especially the PIIGS countries are in financial trouble and the other countries of the Euro zone are the ones that have to pay for this in the meantime.

But getting rid of the Schengen treaty and thus the freedom and prosperity it gave, would be a real shame and the most stupid thing the European countries could do.

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