Czechs who do a lot of travelling around Europe had reason to celebrate in December when their country finally joined the Schengen border-free zone, a move that promised to bring Czech citizens freedom of movement and end the tedious passport controls at many European borders. But things have not turned out quite as expected. Although the checkpoints were removed, the traffic police in neighbouring Austria and Germany are reportedly targeting Czech drivers in the border areas, subjecting them to thorough inspections for no apparent reason. So, are these checks only random or are Czech drivers being singled out?
Dozens of Czechs have complained since the enlargement of the Schengen zone that they were being unfairly targeted by Austrian and German police at road checks, being asked to show their passport for no apparent reason. Czech drivers also complain that they are frequently subjected to thorough searches. German and Austrian police argue that the checks are a necessary part of crime prevention. But Interior Minister Ivan Langer says they could be breeching the Schengen agreement and has threatened to complain at a meeting of the EU Interior Ministers:
“I don’t know if you can call it bullying, but we have had reports that the freedom of movement is not observed everywhere so we asked people to report these incidents to the Ministry of Interior. I think it is a serious matter. Freedom of movement is one of the basic human rights. Preparations to remove border-check-points took more than a year and I want to make sure that nothing now stands in the way of free movement.”
In his reaction on Thursday, Austrian Interior Minister Gunther Platter said that any security measures imposed were Austria’s internal affair, and that the road checks would continue. According to the chief of the Saxony police Jorg Michaelis the frequent controls in the past few months were a precaution following the Schengen enlargement. Interior Minister Ivan Langer has promised to discuss the matter with his counterparts:
“I would like to ask Czech tourists for any information of this kind and I am planning to inform my Austrian and German colleagues about any complaints. At this moment I have information that these checks are more frequent in Germany than in Austria. I want to make sure that this is the case. As a matter of fact, I am about to meet with the Austrian Interior Minister Gunther Platter.”
Meanwhile, the Austrian government announced this week that it would temporarily re-establish border controls during the European Football Championship to be held in Austria and Switzerland this summer. The Austrian Interior Ministry said that between June 2 and July 1 they would focus on potential football hooligans as well as illegal immigrants crossing the country’s borders. The Czech Interior Ministry says it has nothing against this security measure as it complies with European legislation.
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