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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2007, 01:30 GMT
Hope and fear as Schengen expands
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Zgorzelec, Poland

Joint German and Polish border patrol
Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic will do joint border patrols
In this corner of central Europe, you can cross from Germany to Poland and then into the Czech Republic in a matter of minutes.

It is called the "three-country triangle" and until now, waiting at border checks could make life quite complicated.

Take the basketball fans from the Polish town of Zgorzelec, who regularly go to the Czech Republic for European league matches because the sports hall back home is too small.

From now on, they have one more reason to cheer.

From Friday, the Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel across participating European states, now embraces 24 nations in an arc from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic.

"It's going to be much easier for the players and the fans," says team manager Arkadiusz Krygier.

Map
"I feel European. I have no border in my head. So I really like it that we can have so many people from different countries in our team and in the audience."

Local journalist Alexander Pitura also feels happy. Every day he crosses the border five or six times for his work.

"I don't need to wait any more so it makes a big difference for me."

No more waiting

The big difference for the border guards is that without fixed frontier posts, they have to rely on joint mobile patrols.

German and Polish police, joined by their Czech colleagues in some parts of the border, can check people, cars and lorries within a 30-km (19-mile) range.

Many Polish officers, like Piotr Stanski, speak German.

Bridge where Poland meets Germany
Illegal attempts to cross the border have risen, say police

He is from Zgorzelec, while his German colleague, Fabian Riepe, comes from Goerlitz, the German side of town across the river Neisse.

Inside the patrol car, the two men compare the price of cigarettes - some seven million of them have been smuggled through this border since Poland joined the EU in 2004.

But for Mr Stanski, the main concern is illegal migration from further east.

"We've seen an increase in illegal attempts to cross the border, mainly by people from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, sometimes from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Africa," he said.

"But before, this frontier was a sort of an obstacle between us and the German border guards, so if we can work together and even pursue criminals on the other side of the frontier, it will become easier."

Unprecedented protests

As we spoke, the patrol car was stopped by an elderly German, who feared virtually anyone would now be able to cross the border.

The German border guards assured him they would still be on patrol and that the new measures were in the interests of a united Europe.

But with EU borders shifting 700km (430 miles) eastwards, on Poland's frontier with the former Soviet Union, 2,000 German police are facing redundancy or transfer.

Since people heard about the expansion of the Schengen area and the lifting of border checks, they've got scared
Peter Hoffman
Security expert

It has led to unprecedented protests by the federal police union.

Juergen Stark, a union leader, said: "The European idea is very good, but not for criminals.

"There's a new situation for Germany and we have to see what happens. But it could be that a lot of people, illegals living in Poland, come to Germany.

"They could go to England or to France. If there's lots of German police officers here, we can stop it."

More than 60% of Germans agree that open borders are an invitation to crime.

Security expert Peter Hoffman has seen demand for locks and alarm devices rise by 25%.

Love without borders

"Since people heard about the expansion of the Schengen area and the lifting of border checks, they've got scared," he said.

"But I think this fear is unjustified because criminals don't care about border controls anyway."

Anita and Ingo
Ingo Giers (L), a German, and Anita Mrus (R), a Pole, are getting wed
Back on the Polish side, in Zgorzelec, Ingo Giers and Anita Mrus are not interested in security alarms, but wedding rings.

He is German and she is Polish.

They met by chance three years ago in a local restaurant called Europa and have just decided to get married.

"We're both from both sides of one city divided by a river and a border," explained Mr Giers.

"With no more border controls, we thought it would be fine to go the registry office on the German side and go by foot to a restaurant on the Polish to celebrate."

As a child in communist Poland, Ms Mrus used to dream of crossing from Zgorzelec into Goerlitz.

But now, their love literally knows no borders.

On the eve of their wedding, municipal workers hammered away to dislodge the last border post on the bridge that once divided the city.

The happy husband and wife to be - like Poland and Germany - celebrate their union, but are stepping into the unknown.

Schengen zone map



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