FECL 32 (March 1995):

"SCHENGEN" IMPLEMENTATION: FIRST EFFECTS ON BORDER CONTROLS

The Schengen Agreement provides for the abo-lition of internal border controls among the signatory states and increased control of the common external borders. However, as first reports from various borders appear to show, the signatory states have their own views on the practical implications of these measures. Thus, Germany has stepped up surveillance at its internal border with France, Austria is intending to grant the German police a territorially unrestricted right of "hot pursuit", while cross-border activities of the Italian police are to be confined to a zone of only 10 kilometres inside the Austrian border. As for Switzerland, a non-Schengen and non-EU state, it is being treated by its Schengen-neighbours France and Germany almost as if it had already joined the Schengen Group.

Already it appears that the loudly publicised "abolition of internal border controls" is "compensated" for by massively increased surveillance of entire border regions.

 

Austria

On 15 March, a border control operation at the Austro-Hungarian frontier crossing-point, Nickelsdorf, caused a traffic jam with travellers waiting for up to nine hours to cross. Regional security authorities had announced the operation as a "test-run" according to the requirements of the Schengen Agreement's provisions on the control of external borders. The operation drew angry reactions from the public both in Austria and Hungary and the Hungarian Office of Tourism expressed concern about deteriorating relations between the two neighbouring countries. This led the Austrian Interior Minister, Franz Löschnak, to hurriedly and firmly deny any connection between the operation and the

"Schengen" process. Instead, the operation aimed at clamping down on smugglers of illegal immigrants, Löschnak claimed. But an investigation by a Viennese daily newspaper soon revealed that the Interior Ministry had actually ordered the security authorities of Burgenland to carry out border controls "according to the provisions of the Schengen Agreement". Some commentators speculate that the Nickelsdorf operation might have got out of control because of overzealous customs officers trying to prove their aptitude for membership of the Border Protection Force that is to be set up in view of the implementation of external border control measures of "Schengen" and the EU.

The new Grenzschutz (Border Protection Force) will come under the control of the Interior Ministry (instead of the Customs Administration) and Customs officers fear for their jobs.

The Grenzschutz is to recruit 4,400 officers within four years. Its task will consist in controlling Austria's 1,460 km long external border with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, as well as with Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

At the "internal" Austro-Italian frontier crossing-point, customs checks at the border have been all but abolished. Instead, travellers are now often confronted with grim-faced, machine-gun toting Gendarmerie officers, posted on the road some hundred metres inside Austrian territory. Their task is to find so-called "passers" (smugglers of human beings), drug traffickers and wanted persons by carrying out random checks.

In March, the Austrian Government was negotiating with Italy on a reciprocal right of cross-border "hot pursuit" for the two countries' police forces, according to the Schengen provisions. The agreement would come into force at the moment of the entry into force of the Schengen Agreement in both countries. The bilateral agreement provides for the police forces of both countries to operate within a 10 km range inside the border of its neighbouring country. A similar agreement between Austria and Germany is more "liberal": it contains no territorial restrictions on cross-border "hot pursuit" (see FECL No.26, p.4). The "discrimination" against the Italians by Austria once again reveals the different levels of "prestige" various national police forces enjoy within the EU.

Sources: Der Standard, 15.3.95; Kärntner Tageszeitung, 24.2.95, 7.3.95.

 

Switzerland

For months, Swiss police and security officials have been warning against the possible effects of the implementation of the Schengen Agreement for their country. A senior federal police official predicted serious impediments to Swiss cross-border traffic, once neighbouring states introduced increased control at their external borders with Switzerland. Off the record, however, police officials in Switzerland, France, and Germany make reassuring statements that the entry into force of the Schengen Agreement will have little effect on the situation at Swiss frontier crossing points. The extent and economic importance of simple commuter traffic, for example in the Basle region, which borders both on France and Germany, prevents a strict implementation of external border control as provided for by the Schengen Agreement. German governmental sources also emphasise that there is actually no need for changes at the borders with its southern neighbour, "since Switzerland has gradually upgraded its border controls in recent years and keeps up with the Schengen states in other respects too". As a matter of fact, Switzerland has to a large extent voluntarily harmonised its security policies with Schengen standards, by, among other things, setting up a plethora of new computer systems dealing with policing and internal security (see FECL No.9, p.6; No.13, p.7), by introducing new laws intended to combat organised crime and money laundering, and in the field of foreigners and asylum law (see FECL No.30, p.9; No.27, p.2; No.26 p.3; No.25, p.1; No.6, p.3). Swiss police and security agencies are also making successful efforts to develop cooperation with police and intelligence agencies of the EU member states on an informal level.

According to the German Border Protection Force (Bundesgrenzschutz), a number of Swiss nationals are registered in the SIS. It is an open question whether Swiss security bodies are exchanging sensitive data with the SIS through the intermediary of Germany. But it seems clear that Germany views Switzerland as a more trustworthy partner in policing than some EU and even Schengen partners. The Director General of the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police is confident about the future of police cooperation in the EU: "Our European partner states cannot have an interest in Switzerland becoming a `factor of insecurity'", he recently argued.

Sources: Luzerner Neueste Nachrichten, 25.3.95; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 23.2.95, 27.3.95; our sources.

 

Germany

On the Monday following the entry into force of the Schengen Agreement, Czech commuters working in Germany waited for up to three hours at the Philippsreut (Bavaria) crossing-point. The chief of the local border police said that commuters apparently had not taken the announcement of stricter border controls seriously and had not taken into account the longer waiting times at the border on the way to their work.

Apparently, Polish commuters were more far-sighted. No serious delays arose at crossing-points in the Land of Brandenburg, since many Polish commuters left their homes up to three hours earlier than usual, in order to get to their jobs in time. Thus waiting times did not exceed 30 to 60 minutes - "as usual", a spokesman of the Bundesgrenzschutz said. Within the first 24 hours of the entry into effect of the Schengen Agreement seven persons registered in the SIS were arrested at the border. An additional five were detained the following day.

No delays were reported at Frankfurt inter-national airport.

The State Secretary at the Federal Interior Ministry, Kurt Schelter, has announced that Germany wishes neighbouring states to introduce an obligation for their railway companies to sell tickets to destinations in Germany only to travellers in possession of valid travel documents.

The move aims at extending "carrier liability" as already introduced for airlines to other carriers. Negotiations are already under way with Denmark and Sweden. Mr. Schelter pointed out that similar obligations imposed by Germany on Scandinavian ferry companies had produced the expected effect. Practically no ferry passengers any longer tried to enter Germany without valid documents (see FECL No.22, p.7).

The State secretary also said that the Bundesgrenzschutz was offering special training courses to carriers, namely bus companies, "enabling them, in particular, to recognise false documents". Mr. Schelter further pointed to the "good experience" with airlines. Since the introduction of carrier sanctions, the proportion of air-traffic in the total number of illegal entries into Germany had dropped from 20 to 2 per cent, he said.

While the abolition of internal border controls has been generally welcomed by German politicians, many police and customs officers appear to be less enthusiastic. Thus, for example, the Commissioner of the Bavarian Police in charge of Bavaria's frontiers with the Austrian Land of Vorarlberg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, recently declared that "no alternatives exist to border controls". "The further away from the borders we move, the more success in the search of criminals becomes uncertain", he said. The Commissioner pointed to police statistics according to which 40,000 criminals had been stopped and 65,000 "undesirable persons" had been denied entry at the German borders in 1993.

Paradoxically, in view of the entry into force of the Schengen Agreement, German border surveillance has been upgraded not only on the country's "external" borders in the East, but also at the "internal" border to France in the West.

After the discovery, in December, of two bus-loads of "illegal immigrants" (mostly Albanian refugees from Kosovo) in a border town of Baden-Württemberg, 500 additional officers of the BGS have been sent to the Western border. According to a spokesman for the BGS, their task is to systematically track down "people with dark skin and southern looks". Checks in trains heading for the border have also been increased.

According to BGS statistics, from December to February, 82 "smugglers of illegal immigrants" were arrested at the border at Baden-Württemberg. However, only one of the alleged smugglers was actually convicted. This indicates that police statistics are often unreliable. According to various reports, BGS personnel tend to automatically consider drivers of vehicles carrying undocumented foreigners as "reckless smugglers" - an accusation rarely confirmed by the subsequent legal procedures.

Sources: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28.3.95; Junge Welt, 2.3.95; Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26.1.95; Neues Deutschland, 24.5.95.

 

SIS breaks down on second day of operation

The German N-SIS (the national component of the SIS), broke down on Monday 27 March, after only one day of operation. The system, which is based at the BKA (Federal Office of Criminal Investigation) in Wiesbaden, was out of order for six and a half hours, according to the Bavarian Interior Ministry. The breakdown caused serious problems of communication between police computers inside Germany. Some 8,000 stationary and mobile computer terminals are connected to the German N-SIS.

The BKA had first blamed a failure of the Strasbourg based C-SIS (Central support of the SIS) for the breakdown. This assertion was quickly denied by France, which is in charge of the C-SIS. A spokesman for the C-SIS said that no failures had been reported by any member state. Apparently, the BKA did not report the failure to Strasbourg.

The Germans later had to embarrassingly retract their hasty assertion that the French were to blame. The climb down once again reveals rivalries between the Schengen states about who has the best-performing computer technology (see FECL No.23, p.1). The incident also highlights an on-going conflict between German Federal institutions and some Länder. Indeed, while the federal BKA tried to play down the incident, a spokesman of the Bavarian Interior Ministry rushed to call the incident "disquieting". "This has probably not happened for the last time", he predicted and pointed at Bavaria's long-standing demand for the decentralisation of the German N-SIS.

Source: Deutsche Presseagentur (DPA), 28.3.95.