The Borderless Schengen Zone Twentieth Anniversary

The Schengen borderless zone celebrates its twentieth anniversary, but what chance another twenty years?

Meanwhile, the romance of frontiers may be gone but there are still unexpected delights to be had crossing borders these days. Also, spring holidays kick off this weekend.

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THE BORDERLESS SCHENGEN ZONE AT TWENTY

Advantages to car drivers eroded by vignettes but still great for freight.

Schengen in south east Lxembourg, symbolically on the French and German borders where the

Schengen, the town in south east Luxembourg – symbolically on the French and German borders – where the borderless agreement was signed. Photo @DriveEurope.

Europe’s borderless Schengen Zone is twenty years old today.

It came into force on 26 March 1995, initially between Belgium, West Germany, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

(The agreement was signed ten years previously in the Luxembourg town of Schengen, hence the name.)

Since then it has expanded to include all EU member states – except the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania – plus Switzerland and Norway.

Being as time spent queuing at borders is money, the principle advantage to us all is in lower prices thanks to the efficient flow of freight round the Continent.

The well-trod 360 mile round trip between Calais and Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands, for example, would include four international borders without Schengen, plus crossing the Channel.

Anyone doubting the scale of border freight queues should note the frequent flare ups between Bulgaria and Turkey.

Car drivers increasingly miss out on seamless travel because they have to stop anyway to buy vignette road passes. The next one is due in Germany next year.

It’s debateable whether Margaret Thatcher’s statement of the bloomin’ obvious during her famous Bruges Speech in 1988 – ‘We cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants’ – has come to pass.

The big threat to Schengen currently is France. Not only would Front National leader Marine Le Pen reinstate French borders the moment she takes power but presidential rival Nicolas Sarkozy is on the record many times saying he doesn’t like it either.

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Throwback Thursday: talking of borders, one of our favourites if the Finland-Sweden border, Tornio-Haparanda, at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. Not because there’s an IKEA right there but because the time zone change means you gain an hour. In our case – racing against time - it meant reaching Umea that night rather than Lula, Pitea or Skelleftea and getting our highly ambitious six day Baltic Circumnavigation back on track. The same thing happened coming back from Romania to Hungary. Obviously it ain’t so hot going the other way.

Throwback Thursday: talking of borders, one of our favourites is the Finland-Sweden border, Tornio-Haparanda, at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. Not because there’s an IKEA but because the time zone change means you gain an hour. In our case – racing against time – it meant (unexpectedly) reaching Umea that night rather than Lula, Pitea or Skelleftea and getting our highly ambitious six day Baltic Circumnavigation back on track. The same thing happened coming back from Romania to Hungary the year before. Obviously it ain’t so hot going the other way.

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Weekend traffic: there are no traffic warnings for France this weekend but elsewhere the spring holidays get underway. From Friday afternoon in Germany, traffic will be ‘significantly’ higher than usual, escaping the cities, and again on Saturday, heading to the Alps. However, chaos is not expected. Austria is likely busiest of all, clogging the usual suspect back way cross-borders roads. Switzerland has fewer schools breaking up but on Saturday roads will be crowded. There are likely to be the first jams of the year at the Gotthard Tunnel as drivers head south. Also, Dover-Calais and Eurotunnel are both expecting a busy weekend.

Weekend weather: Stormy weather in the central and east Mediterranean moving slowly eastwards over the weekend. High winds in the South of France and from the UK to Scandinavia. Meanwhile, fine and sunny in Iberia, especially south says the BBC. Mild temperatures generally except for the North and East.

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