YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

One Europe: The Dream of Unity : Changing Lifestyles : A System Bordering on Chaos : Free movement between countries may open the door to crime and terrorism.


PARIS — When internal borders dissolve at the end of this year, the 1987 Single European Act calls for the free movement of "goods, services, capital and people" in the 12 states that form the European Community.

In the categories of goods, services and capital this European dream seems well on track to meeting the 1993 deadline. But in the fourth, potentially most troublesome category, the one involving people, the Europeans have made relatively little progress.

Everyone agrees that the dream of a Europe without borders can succeed only if the EC's 344 million citizens are able to move freely among member countries. But many are also afraid of the consequences of removing the community's extensive and longstanding border controls.

Former British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, a fervent advocate of a united Europe, said as long ago as 1951 that his dream was to be able to one day buy a train ticket in London's Victoria station and travel anywhere in Europe without going through border controls, noted authors Nicholas Colchester and David Buchan in their book "Europe Relaunched."

More than 40 years later, as Europe enters the home stretch of its "EC '92" effort, "it would be totally ludicrous to have goods, services and capital circulating but still have systematic controls on people," said an EC official in Brussels.

Yet the traditional European system of border controls--customs, immigration and border police--forms an important part of crime control on the Continent. Police officials fear that dropping the borders without replacing them with some other system of internal controls will leave Europe's door open for illegal immigrants and criminals of all types.

Despite a push by Germany to create a pan-European police force called Europol, the EC leaders meeting in the Dutch city of Maastricht in December managed only a weak agreement to share certain crime-related intelligence. So far, "Europol" is nothing more than a name-- although Lyon, France, Wiesbaden, Germany, and Rome have been proposed as potential headquarters for its nonexistent staff.

Nonetheless, the need for some kind of pan-European police force is generally recognized. European interior ministers have met since 1975 to coordinate efforts against organized crime, terrorism and drug smuggling. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl first proposed what he called a "European FBI" as early as 1988. But the willingness of European states to reduce sovereignty on police matters is tangled in historical suspicions, many inspired by World War II, when Germany's free-ranging Gestapo was the terror of the Continent.

"I personally think that the fact that Europol was a German proposal made it difficult for other countries," said a German government official. "When it comes to areas involving security, many countries fear Germany because of the last war. We understand that. It would have been better if the Europol proposal had been made by France or Italy."

Without internal borders, the community's ability to control illegal immigration, organized international crime, terrorism and drugs will be greatly limited. In Germany alone, for example, authorities stationed at borders with France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands--all EC members--made 23,000 arrests and confiscated nearly three tons of drugs in 1990, the last year for which statistics are available.

What concerns some European national police officials such as Juergen Storbeck, chief of international relations for the German federal police in Bonn, is that after the borders are removed police will lose one of their most effective means of controlling crime.

"Until now," Storbeck said in a telephone interview, "our borders have had great importance for police. The borders are the main places that we make seizures of drugs--heroin, cocaine and cannabis. They are where we intercept stolen goods and capture wanted persons."

The united, borderless Europe of the future, said Storbeck, will be only as secure as its weakest point on its external border, from the Greek Island of Rhodes to the coast of Northern Ireland. "The moment a person enters into the community, no matter where, there won't be any more risk," said Storbeck. "So naturally the criminal will try to enter by the weakest point."

To beef up external borders, the 10 continental members of the EC are expected to transfer most of their internal immigration, customs and border police officials to the external frontiers.

All seaports will be considered external borders and will have full customs and immigration facilities. Even the channel tunnel that connects Britain and France will be controlled as an exterior seaport even though both countries served by the tunnel are members of the EC.

Los Angeles Times Articles