Tonight, Estonia and other countries become part of the Schengen area. Internal border controls are abolished on land and sea borders, so you can travel across Europe without anybody checking your documents at all. (Kind of like you can drive all across the US freely.)
This move has both practical and symbolic meaning. In the practical sense, travelling in Europe becomes easier – although it doesn’t really matter that much. I’ve driven across Eastern Europe several times over the past few years and the border controls didn’t consist of anything more than the official simply glancing quickly at your document and there were no queues for border crossing – except for trucks, whose queues were at times quite long and even a traffic safety hazard at some border crossings (like from Lithuania to Poland). So for trucking industry, life becomes indeed easier. And for all other drivers, just more convenient.
For me, the symbolic meaning of this news is much more significant than the practical part. It means that we are now much closer to a unified Europe and forgetting this “old/new Europe” antagonism. There are still obstacles, such as some countries not fully opening their labor market, and silly obstacles to free provision of services across the EU. But abolishing internal border controls is a great step forward.
I was somewhat sceptical to Schengen coming to Estonia, it seemed one of those things that’s going to happen in some distant unperceivable future. So I was overjoyed when I learned earlier this year that we are joining the Schengen area already in the end of 2007. A nice way to end the year – and hopefully an inspiration to all Europeans to keep building Europe’s future together in 2008 and beyond.