Go where you want, be what you want

  • 2002-01-17
  • Vita I. Matiss
The first part of the sentence in the title conjures up so many frivolous flights of fancy - Jules Verne in his balloon adventurously circling a borderless globe in 80 days; Amelia Earhart, a woman piloting solo around the world; and perfectly puerile recollections of Samantha the bewitched witch, who with a twitch of her nose could transport herself anywhere she wanted and be whoever she wanted.

It is precisely because the freedom of movement of people, labor and services, this central tenet of the Treaty of Rome, are very clearly delineated in both time and space that our fantasy flights have difficulties in finding their wings.

The specific space within which the freedom of movement of people, labor and services operates in most of Western Europe has several names. Officially it is called the European Union. Unofficially, it is called a "fortress Europe," or a "people's Europe," or Schengen-land.

A people's Europe, as we recall, was the phrase used by Willy Brandt to express his desire for a community whose members could fairly share in the benefits of economic prosperity.

A fortress Europe is the derogatory phrase used to describe the impression of those freely moving outside of the European Union, and who would like to move closer in but find that the bridge has been drawn up by the lords of the castle.

Bold borders

Freedoms imply obligations, and in order to protect our rights, like the freedom of movement, we assume responsibilities like policing our borders. The question of how these rights and responsibilities interact - both inside and outside the space of the European Union - of how freedom and security can be reconciled, this is the central issue and dilemma of both governments and civil society today.

After the events of Sept. 11 in New York, it is commonly assumed that while terrorism has made NATO enlargement easier, terrorist threats have made EU enlargement more pressing, albeit more difficult, in a space where borders need to be patrolled and immigration controlled more vigilantly.

But, at another level, there exists also the psychological security of the inhabitants of the inner fort, those who may feel threatened or disturbed by the prospect of hoards of workers from the east moving across the moat in order to plunder their territory come 2004.

In regard to the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986, the acquis of freedom of movement of workers was subjected to a transitional period of seven years. During that time, older member states were allowed to maintain their bilateral arrangements with the new member states.

As was noted in a recent study, very modest migration flows were recorded after the Spanish and Portuguese accession. Fears of major migration pressure did not materialize.

I would like to venture the guess that the same fears concerning the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe will also not materialize.

But this is only personal speculation, and in the meantime the fears are real, leading to the same demand of a seven-year transition period before the full acquis on the free movement of labor can be applied.

During the accession negotiation process, the candidate countries held out for quite some time, not only for practical reasons, but also because free movement across borders is the most visible and psychologically powerful symbol of the "return to Europe" that joining the EU embodies and represents.

Eliminate this symbol, and you eliminate much of the psychological motivation for joining the EU.

Fear of freedom

Psychological motivation has nothing to do with the politics and legal logistics of joining a single market, one may rightly say. But then it follows that psychological motivation, that is, fear, should have nothing to do with keeping citizens of aspiring new member countries out of the single market either.

Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, as we know, have declared that they will not exercise the option of applying the transition period to new member states. Germany and Austria are the most insistent on keeping transition period in.

More surprisingly, Finland declared that it will impose a transition period on Estonia for at least two years after it joins the EU.

The freedom of movement is the most restrictive of the four freedoms, but it is also the one with the broadest implications and ramifications. It is "freedom" through which the human dimension of market integration arrives.

The social agenda "sneaks in" so to speak, on the backs of those human beings - workers, laborers, students - who are the artisans of the single market.

The inherent conflict and trade-off between freedom and security has been exacerbated by the events of Sept. 11. But should issues of border controls and extradition arrangements be the central issues on the European agenda today?

What would truly be a more effective arm against terrorism: further restriction of the already most restrictive freedom of movement, or tightening up of one of the least restrictive freedoms, that of the free movement of capital?

Whatever we may choose to call it - a two-tier Europe, Europe a deux vitesses, or a fortress Europe with several inner keeps - it's clear that neither the people's Europe nor the fortress Europe has been a unified bloc for sometime now.

The delicate balancing act of trading off security for freedom, and some freedom for security, has resulted in tailor-made adjustments for many member states.

Delicate balance

The candidate countries are involved in a few balancing acts of their own. On the one hand, they strive to fulfill the Schengen criteria so that the "free movement of persons" - that symbol of their return to Europe - can become a reality.

On the other hand, a hermetically sealed border with eastern neighbors does not auger well for good relations and stability in the long term. On the one hand they wish to speed up the accession process, thus providing for "negotiating breakthroughs" like agreeing to transition periods for the freedom of movement of persons, but thus providing also, perhaps, ground for resentment for their populations, who see that this most visible symbol of their return to Europe has been snatched away.

The candidate countries are quite well acquainted with the relative advantages and disadvantages of building new walls and tearing down old ones. Will their accession to the EU represent and mean the building of a new wall, or the elimination of an old one?

And if so, what will be the nature of this new divide?

As one brilliant European scholar wrote some years ago, "Traveling to and fro across the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, I concluded that the real European divide was between those in the West who had Europe, and those in the East who believed in it."

The psychological symbol represented by the free movement of people across borders - this symbol of freedom - must always remain more powerful and convincing than the psychological symbol represented by the restriction of the free movement of people - that symbol of fear.