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Passport-Free Travel Under Threat In Europe


One of Europe's proudest achievements is the Schengen zone. Travel between its 26 member nations is passport and visa-free. But the surge of migrants in Europe has led six countries to impose temporary border controls. And in Amsterdam yesterday, the European Union decided to consider extending those controls for at least two years. Our next guest is a man with a particular perspective on the borders of the EU. Ben Homan is the mayor for the town where the agreement was forged and gave it its name Schengen. It's a tiny place where Luxembourg meets Germany and France. Good morning.

BEN HOMAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now the town has only 500 people approximately, and it was chosen for signing - the signing ceremony because of its symbolism, a meeting point of three nations. What has border-free travel meant for Schengen?

HOMAN: Well, for us, it's very important because in our daily life, we has got to travel this frontier every day. You see, we are a winemaking regions, and our winemakers, see, even have one yards on the German and on the French sides. So there have been a lot of contacts in the past between these three countries - France, Germany and Luxembourg. So we travel this border every day, and for us, it was helpful when these agreement came.

MONTAGNE: What do you think is your responsibility to migrants seeking entry?

HOMAN: I actually think the responsibility is a common one. You see, the problem is that, actually, we reacted too late. We - it took too long a time that we reacted, and we left the problems to some single nations. And we now should try to get a solution on the whole community of the Schengen Area to solve this problems because we can't leave those people on the sea. We must bring them to the country, and we must help those people, but I think it should be regulated. And actually, this coming in from the refugees is not more regulated, it's not controlled, and that's a big problem.

MONTAGNE: Well, being there and being the mayor of Schengen where this agreement all started, what is your prediction of what will happen to the Schengen Agreement?

HOMAN: I think that as the ministers put it - actually, in Amsterdam, they are going to have - they have given the order to the commission to close temporarily some borders of the Schengen Area. I think we will find the solution in temporarily closing some of our frontiers or let's controlling them.

MONTAGNE: What has the Schengen Agreement meant to the economies of those countries that are part of it? How important is it?

HOMAN: I think it's very important. If we are going to close this borders, the German Economic Board made the calculation where the cost would be about $10 billion that would come from closing the frontiers just for the country like Germany, which is one of this area. You see, we are working in the industry by just in time. We have no stocks on the industry. So goods travel through this area, and not only the goods, person also but very important part are the goods. So everybody in his daily life will be concerned if we close again these borders.

MONTAGNE: Ben Homan is mayor of Schengen, where the Schengen Agreement on free travel among its members was signed. Thank you very much for talking with us.

HOMAN: Yeah, thank you. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.