Tag Archives: European Union

The Baltic States Join The European Union

On 14th September 2003 the people of Estonia voted in a referendum to become members of the European Union.

When the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia made their accession into the European Union in 2004, few people were even remotely aware of where the mysterious sounding capital cities of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn actually were.  Up until the end of the 1980s, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, these countries were subsumed in any World Atlas into the smear of scarlet that represented the USSR and these once great cities had been hidden behind the Iron Curtain for so long that they had disappeared from the consciousness of many of their Western neighbours.

Even after they were restored to independence the view of most people was that many years under the jackboot of communism rendered them greyer than an Old Trafford sky on the first day of an Ashes Test Match and they didn’t feature on many travel itineraries.   But Estonia has caught up quickly, it has more internet access than any other EU country, is the birthplace of the internet application Skype and in 2009 it was ranked sixth in the Press Freedom Index, which is an annual ranking of countries, compiled and published by ‘Reporters without Borders’ based upon an assessment of press freedom records.

Estonia is located in the North East of Europe (the most northerly of the three Baltic States) and South of the Gulf of Finland, which separates the country from Scandinavia. It has nearly four thousand kilometres of coastline and one thousand, five hundred and twenty islands in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe (148th in the world), and although it is larger than both Belgium and the Netherlands the population is a little over 1.3 million.

Whilst Estonia is a member state of the European Union it hasn’t met the economic criteria to join the Eurozone and this is a country that makes financial transactions in thousands rather than tens of units so for the first time since Croatia in June we had a wallet full of unfamiliar notes and we enjoyed the self deception of feeling like millionaires when we visited the city in December 2009.

The European Union

On 18th April 1951, The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe and with still more with aspirations to join.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the ungrateful and chronic Anglophobe President Charles de Gaulle.

The 1960s saw the first attempts at enlargement. In May Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom applied to join the three Communities. However, President Charles de Gaulle saw British membership as a Trojan horse for US influence and vetoed membership, and the applications of all four countries were suspended.

The four countries resubmitted their applications in May 1967 and with Georges Pompidou succeeding Charles de Gaulle as French President, the veto was lifted. Negotiations began in 1970 under the pro-European government of Edward Heath, who had to deal with disagreements relating to the Common Agricultural Policy and the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth of Nations. Nevertheless, two years later the accession treaties were signed and all but Norway acceded to the Community (Norway rejected membership in a referendum).

These days, before being allowed to join the EU, a state must fulfill the economic and political conditions generally known as the Copenhagen criteria. These basically require a candidate to have a democratic, free market government together with the corresponding freedoms and institutions, and respect the rule of law.

There are twenty-seven countries in the European Union, twenty Republics and seven Monarchies and I have visited twenty of them:

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The European Flag

1st January the Euro

Travelling Without Passports

“What is it that gives a frontier its magic? Not the fact that that it is a territorial or political boundary, for these are artificial, dictated by history.  Perhaps it is language that gives to the crossing of a frontier its definitive flavour of voyage.  Whatever the answer the magic is there.  The traveller’s heart will beat to a new rhythm, he will examine the strange new coinage.  Everything will seem to be changed, including the air he breathes”,                                                          Lawrence Durrell.

Before 1914, it was possible to travel freely within Europe without a passport but the First World War meant more controls were required and after the war came to an end, the practice of issuing passports and performing routine passport controls at national frontiers remained and became a tiresome travelling chore in Europe until the creation of the Schengen Area in 1995.

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed on 14th June 1985 near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, between five of the ten member states of the European Economic Community. It was supplemented by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement five years later and together these treaties created Europe’s borderless Schengen Area which operates as a single state for international travel with border controls for travellers moving in and out of the area, but without internal border controls.

The Schengen Agreement was implemented on March 26th 1995 and by 1997 included all European Union member states except the United Kingdom and Ireland.  You just know the UK is going to be difficult about something like this!New EU member states do not sign the Schengen Agreement but are bound to implement the Schengen rules as part of the pre-existing body of EU law which every new entrant is obliged to accept.

I am all in favour of anything that simplifies travel arrangements because crossing state borders can be both inconsistent and a chore.  I have not driven between countries often in Europe but I have passed effortlessly between Spain and Portugal, France and Germany and Belgium and France where, in the case of the latter,  crossing the border was marked only by a rather disappointing little road sign that completely failed to capture the significance of the moment.

Passing between Germany and Switzerland I found rather curious.  Leaving Germany by ferry at Freidrichshafen and crossing Lake Constance required a passport but driving back around the shore line of the lake there was no sign of any border control going from Switzerland into Austria and then back into Germany?

Driving between the Balkan countries that made up the former state of Yugoslavia shows what it must have been like in Europe before Schengen because this can be really inconvenient.  Driving south in Croatia there is an interesting diplomatic arrangement at the town of Neum which is the only seaside town in Bosnia and occupies about twenty kilometres of coastline that splits Croatia in two and which requires driving through border controls at both ends, which quite frankly is a bit of a pain in the arse for traffic travelling to and from Dubrovnik.  The Bosnians insist on this and the Croatian solution is simple and they have begun construction of a three thousand metre long bridge that will cross to the Peljesac peninsular and solve the problem by bypassing Bosnia altogether.

Passing from Croatia to Montenegro and back again was a drawn out and tortuous process that required passport and vehicle document checks and a €10 environmental tax to boot but getting between Croatia and Bosnia on the road to Mostar was surprisingly swift and simple by comparison.

Crossing borders in the Balkans was irritating but my worst passport experience has to have been a train journey between Slovakia and Austria and it was all my own fault. Shortly out of Bratislava two men in military uniforms wandered through the train checking documents.  I naturally assumed that they were inspecting tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead.  Holy Shit!  This simply hadn’t occurred to me, and just when I was thinking ‘we’re all in trouble now’ our travelling companions, Micky, Sue and Christine, produced their passports with a self-satisfied smugness, while Kim and I sat there in a state of extreme shock!

The policemen asked if we had any alternative forms of identification and Kim optimistically offered photographs of her children, perhaps hoping that a family resemblance might be acceptable to them.  This didn’t work of course and the options began to look bleak, at worst a concrete prison cell and some explaining to staff from the British Embassy and a solicitor, at best being dropped off at the next station in the middle of nowhere before the train crossed the border into Austria and having to find our own way back.

Luckily the men with guns seemed to find our embarrassing situation just as amusing as our friends and on the basis that Micky was able to vouch for us and to confirm that we were neither refugees, international terrorists or American (?)they agreed that we could proceed with our journey.  They added a chilling warning however as they moved on; ‘Of course we cannot guarantee that the Austrian police will be so understanding on the way back’, which left us weighing up our overnight and return journey options.   Just to illustrate lack of consistency there were no passport controls on the way back so we needn’t have worried after all.

A Life in a Year – 14th September, The Baltic States Join The EU

On 14th September 2003 the people of Estonia voted in a referendum to become members of the European Union.

When the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia made their accession into the European Union in 2004, few people were even remotely aware of where the mysterious sounding capital cities of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn actually were.  Up until the end of the 1980s, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, these countries were subsumed in any World Atlas into the smear of scarlet that represented the USSR and these once great cities had been hidden behind the Iron Curtain for so long that they had disappeared from the consciousness of many of their Western neighbours.

Even after they were restored to independence the view of most people was that many years under the jackboot of communism rendered them greyer than an Old Trafford sky on the first day of an Ashes Test Match and they didn’t feature on many travel itineraries.   But Estonia has caught up quickly, it has more internet access than any other EU country, is the birthplace of the internet application Skype and in 2009 it was ranked sixth in the Press Freedom Index, which is an annual ranking of countries, compiled and published by ‘Reporters without Borders’ based upon an assessment of press freedom records.

Estonia is located in the North East of Europe (the most northerly of the three Baltic States) and South of the Gulf of Finland, which separates the country from Scandinavia. It has nearly four thousand kilometres of coastline and one thousand, five hundred and twenty islands in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe (148th in the world), and although it is larger than both Belgium and the Netherlands the population is a little over 1.3 million.

Whilst Estonia is a member state of the European Union it hasn’t met the economic criteria to join the Eurozone and this is a country that makes financial transactions in thousands rather than tens of units so for the first time since Croatia in June we had a wallet full of unfamiliar notes and we enjoyed the self deception of feeling like millionaires when we visited the city in December 2009.

A Life in a Year – 18th April, The European Union (Common Market)

On 18th April 1951, The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe and with still more with aspirations to join.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the ungrateful and chronic Anglophobe President Charles de Gaulle.

The 1960s saw the first attempts at enlargement. In May Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom applied to join the three Communities. However, President Charles de Gaulle saw British membership as a Trojan horse for US influence and vetoed membership, and the applications of all four countries were suspended.

The four countries resubmitted their applications in May 1967 and with Georges Pompidou succeeding Charles de Gaulle as French President, the veto was lifted. Negotiations began in 1970 under the pro-European government of Edward Heath, who had to deal with disagreements relating to the Common Agricultural Policy and the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth of Nations. Nevertheless, two years later the accession treaties were signed and all but Norway acceded to the Community (Norway rejected membership in a referendum).

These days, before being allowed to join the EU, a state must fulfill the economic and political conditions generally known as the Copenhagen criteria. These basically require a candidate to have a democratic, free market government together with the corresponding freedoms and institutions, and respect the rule of law.

There are twenty-seven countries in the European Union, twenty Republics and seven Monarchies and I have visited twenty of them:

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The European Flag

1st January the Euro

A Life in a Year – 26th March, The Schengen Agreement and Travel Without Passports

Before 1914, it was possible to travel freely within Europe without a passport but the First World War meant more controls were required and after the war came to an end, the practice of issuing passports and performing routine passport controls at national frontiers remained and became a routine travelling chore in Europe until the creation of the Schengen Area in 1995.

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed on 14th June 1985 near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, between five of the ten member states of the European Economic Community. It was supplemented by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement five years later and together these treaties created Europe’s borderless Schengen Area which operates as a single state for international travel with border controls for travelers travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls.

The Schengen Agreement was implemented on March 26th 1995 and by 1997 all European Union member states except the United Kingdom and Ireland. New EU member states do not sign the Schengen Agreement but are bound to implement the Schengen rules as part of the pre-existing body of EU law which every new entrant is required to accept.

I am all in favour of anything that simplifies travel arrangements because crossing state borders can be both inconsistent and a chore.  I have not driven between countries often in Europe but I have passed effortlessly between Spain and Portugal, France and Germany and Belgium and France where crossing the border was marked only by a rather disappointing little road sign that completely failed to capture the significance of the moment.

Passing between Germany and Switzerland I found rather curious.  Leaving Germany by ferry at Freidrichshafen and crossing Lake Constance required a passport but driving back around the shore line of the lake there was no sign of any border control going from Switzerland into Austria and then back into Germany.

Driving between the Balkan countries that made up the former state of Yugoslavia shows what it must have been like in Europe before Schengen because this can be really inconvenient.  Driving south in Croatia there is an interesting diplomatic arrangement at the town of Neum which is the only seaside town in Bosnia and occupies about twenty kilometres of coastline that splits Croatia in two and which requires driving through border controls at both ends, which quite frankly is a bit of a pain in the arse for traffic travelling to and from Dubrovnik.  The Croatian solution is simple and they have begun construction of a three thousand metre long bridge that will cross to the Peljesac peninsular and solve the problem by bypassing Bosnia altogether.  Passing from Croatia to Montenegro and back again was a drawn out and tortuous process that required passport and vehicle document checks and a €10 environmental tax to boot but getting between Croatia and Bosnia on the road to Mostar was surprisingly swift and simple by comparison.

Crossing borders in the Balkans was irritating but the worst passport experience has to have been a train journey between Slovakia and Austria.Shortly out of Bratislava two men in military uniforms wandered through the train checking documents.  I naturally assumed that they were checking tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead.  Holy Shit!  This simply hadn’t occurred to me, and just when I was thinking ‘we’re all in trouble now’ Micky, Sue and Christine produced their passports with a self-satisfied smugness, while Kim and I sat there in a state of extreme shock!

The policemen asked if we had any alternative forms of identification and Kim optimistically offered photographs of her children, perhaps hoping that a family resemblance might be acceptable to them.  This didn’t work of course and the options began to look bleak, at worst a concrete prison cell and some explaining to staff from the British Embassy and a solicitor, at best being dropped off at the next station in the middle of nowhere before the train crossed the border into Austria and having to find our own way back.

Luckily the men with guns seemed to find our embarrassing situation just as amusing as our traveling companions and on the basis that Micky was able to vouch for us and to confirm that we were neither refugees nor international terrorists they agreed that we could proceed with our journey.  They added a chilling warning however as they moved on; ‘Of course we cannot guarantee that the Austrian police will be so understanding on the way back’, which left us weighing up our overnight and return journey options.   Just to illustrate lack of consistency there were no passport controls on the way back so we needn’t have worried after all.