Fully open EC borders will have to wait a while

November 29, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- The European Community was supposed to thro open all international frontiers within itself Jan. 1, as the single market comes into effect. Passport and customs checks were to end and EC residents were to be allowed free and easy access into and out of one another's countries.

But the dream of open borders will not be realized, at least not yet, though some borders will be opened more widely than others.

This has caused controversy and disappointment throughout the community.

The single market was created to facilitate the free flow of goods, services and people throughout the 12 countries. It aims to increase the community's economic integration by encouraging trade, the migration of workers to where there are jobs, and to give insurance companies, banks and other service industries a wider market to operate in without having to deal with national bureaucracies.

Nearly 280 EC laws have been accepted by the member countries to bring the single market into effect. But not all countries are prepared to do away with the border controls where people are concerned.

"Britain is the main obstacle," said a diplomat involved in EC affairs from one of the Benelux countries who refused to use his name. "We think an outer frontier treaty should be signed if you truly want a free movement of people. Without it [such a treaty] you can't have that."

From the beginning, the British have been reluctant to accept the proposed regime, which would permit their fellow EC residents to come and go here without passports.

Last week Home Minister Kenneth Clarke was reported to have reaffirmed the British policy, saying there was still "no prospect of any general removal of frontier controls on Jan. 1."

Britain's problem, said the diplomat, is that it finds it too difficult "to give away part of its sovereignty to other countries. That's what's happening. They don't like the idea of somebody else to be deciding who can come and move on British soil."

A spokesman at the immigration department within the Home Office was eager to play down Britain's intentions after Jan. 1. Most people coming from the Continent, she said, "will simply be waved through," especially if they come over on the ferries or drive via the English Channel tunnel when it opens. At airports, she said, "there would be a similar sort of thing, though we reserve the right to make spot checks."

Access into and out of European countries for EC residents is much speeded up these days, with special, quicker lines reserved for them. Despite the resistance here and in other countries, the EC is moving closer to the goal it was supposed to reach in January.

The single market has been described as the greatest facilitator of European union since the 1957 Treaty of Rome was signed, establishing the EC. The Maastricht Treaty, designed to take the community to a single currency and deeper political union, has not been ratified by all 12 and thus hasn't gone into force.

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