When at the end of the 16th century Shakespeare, in Hamlet, inserted his soliloquy “to be or not to be” little did he know that its popularity would endure centuries and be called upon in almost every aspect of human existence, leaving the character of his moody Prince irrelevant to the plight. The 21st century will largely be marked by the globalisation trend in all aspects of human existence. All nations/countries are experiencing dealing with people and struggles to keep a niche in the crowded, competitive world and many are crumbling. In many of its aspects the Schengen Area can be viewed as a mini-globe, pursuing globalisation within itself.
Upon his current visit to Estonia Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has Monday 26 January announced that he aims for Croatia to lodge its request for membership in the Schengen Area of EU, which is a 26-nation zone that does not require a passport for travel between the countries, by 1 July 2015, reports Croatian media.
“We are going to apply for the full membership of the Schengen regime at the earliest convenient and legal day that is July 1st, 2015, two years after accession to EU and then assessment period will ensue. We have expectations, it matters to us, we are a tourist economy. Relying heavily on profitable tourist industry and the freedom of movement and safety of visitors, of whom majority are Europeans is of paramount importance to us,” said Milanovic in Estonia.
The main features of Schengen Area are the creation of a single external border, and a single set of rules for policing the border. Among the other measures/aspects are:
• EU citizens traveling, working and living in any EU country without special formalities
• Common rules on asylum
• Pursuit of criminals – police have the right to chase suspected criminals across borders
• Separation in airports of people traveling within the Schengen area from other passengers
• Common list of countries whose nationals require visas
• Creation of the Schengen Information System (SIS) which allows police stations and consulates to access a shared database of wanted or undesirable people and stolen goods
• Joint efforts to fight drug-related crime
According to the ec.europa.eu website: “joining the Schengen Area is not merely a political decision. Countries must also fulfill a list of pre-conditions, such as be prepared and have the capacity to:
• take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of the other Schengen States and for issuing uniform Schengen visas
• efficiently cooperate with law enforcement agencies in other Schengen States in order to maintain a high level of security once border controls between Schengen countries are abolished
• apply the common set of Schengen rules (the so-called “Schengen acquis”), such as controls of land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of visas, police cooperation and protection of personal data
• connect to and use the SIS.
Applicant countries undergo a ‘Schengen evaluation’ before joining the Schengen Area and periodically thereafter to ensure the correct application of the legislation”.
No doubt about it, Schengen has brought new freedoms to the citizens of member countries – particularly freedom of movement, freedom to choose a country of abode, freedom to obtain education from any institution within the borders, freedom to seek and obtain employment in any member country, free trade…
But Schengen has also given rise to much scepticism.
While many of its features have been beneficial, problems are emerging for certain economies and countries, especially the smaller and the economically weaker ones. So while free trade and the free movement of labour are generally seen as positive and a thing to latch onto they can mean a serious downside for smaller and/or economically struggling countries, and Croatia is one of those.
Free trade forces all countries to compete using an even playing field, which puts the smaller and less developed countries behind their bigger more developed counterparts. And, when one looks at how the Croatian industry, manufacture and production base has been depleted through often-suspicious privatisations and corruption Croatia is indeed on a weak, shaky leg to compete.
Another downside of Schengen is the phenomenon known as ‘labour drain.’ Since Schengen allows workers to easily move from one country to another, countries with limited job opportunities often find it difficult to encourage skilled workers to stay in their countries. Croatia has seen a relatively enormous “labour drain” particularly of young and highly skilled people who find it an existential necessity to leave the country and seek jobs elsewhere. Little, if anything, is being done in Croatia to beef-up job opportunities, if anything more jobs have been lost than gained in the critical economic climate of the past decade.
There are few issues that define national sovereignty as much as border control does and as much as the EU and Schengen argue that membership does not take away the national sovereignty of a member state it is an open and shut case that in a borderless area the member countries will find it harder and harder to exercise supreme authority over themselves. Border control also means immigration control. The seeming lack of a clear common law regarding immigration into Schengen Area makes way for possibilities for an immigrant to legalise their situation in one member country and to reside in another. Similarly, illegal immigration can just cross one external border to access any member country.
Many analysts say that the expansion of the Schengen Area has not only brought new freedoms but also given rise to scepticism and fears about a lack of control and an increase in crime.
To qualify as member of Schengen Area Croatia has a great deal to fix in its border control, Eastern borders would become a part of the critically important external border Schengen countries depend upon, but the EU funds are available to assist significantly in this. What I’m picking up from various media contents from Croatia is that the Croatian government is focusing on border control as its major issue for joining Schengen. I find little if anything addressing the more important issues of citizens’ daily lives and existence, the success of which will largely depend on entrepreneurial and business competition/enterprising skills at all levels, from the small farmer to the large company. Certainly Milanovic’s Social Democrat government and the mandates of the two last Presidents – Stjepan Mesic and Ivo Josipovic (in whose mandates EU negotiations and accession ensued) – have seen no attempts of note that would set in motion an adequate improvement to the blanket culture of business competition and entrepreneurship.
Becoming a member country of Schengen will also mean that Croatian domestic firms and businesses may no longer be protected from various tariffs that can be quite high. In a climate of increased competition one also realises that increased competition implies the survival of low cost firms and lower prices and raised encouragement of product innovation. The reality is that Croatian firms and businesses (perhaps excluding the tourism industry) will need miracles to find a niche in order to survive within such competitive environment. They are the ones who , if Croatian is accepted into Schengen Area, will not be asking themselves “to Schengen or not to Schengen” but rather the survival or existential question: “to be or not to be” – unless of course, substantial energy and resources are invested into education and development of skills of competition all the way along to the smallest farmer. They certainly inherited nothing of that sort from communist Yugoslavia and its socialist regulated economy. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)