Shome Basu documents Europe’s wine-producing hamlet where the landmark Schengen agreement was signed.
A half-hour bus ride to the outskirts of the Luxembourg City will take you to a place called Casino. Hop on to another bus, and within 20 minutes you will reach the wine-producing hamlet of Schengen, a part of Royal Luxembourg.
The river Moselle (French pronunciation) or Mozel (Germen pronounciation) divides Schengen into Germany on the west bank and France on the east. Schengen is Europe’s quintessential fairy-tale village with lush green vineyards lined across the banks of a lazy river, housing a bakery, a grocery, a Chinese restaurant and a 14th century chateau, plus a discreet, modern looking museum.
Although a sleepy town, it is still known as the place where Europe banished its borders. Near the historic place where the landmark Schengen agreement was signed, flags of all nations flutter gracefully. Just next to it, there is a plaque with the word ‘peace’ written on it in Devanagari script.
From Luxembourg, the road curves over a bridge. On the other side of the river are two European countries – France on the right and Germany on the left.
During the Second World War and Cold War, the borders were heavily guarded. But since the formation of EU and the Schengen agreement, this is a free pass for Schengen pass holders and European residents.
The Schengen agreement is a treaty that led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen area, in which internal border checks were largely abolished. It was signed in 1985 by five of the ten member-states of the then European Economic Community. It proposed measures intended to gradually abolish border checks at the signatories’ common borders, including reduced speed vehicle checks. This allowed vehicles to cross borders without stopping, allowing residents in border areas freedom from fixed checkpoints and the harmonisation of visa policies.
In 1990, the agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention, which proposed the complete abolition of systematic internal border controls and a common visa policy. The Schengen area operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with external border controls for travellers entering and exiting the area – and common visas – but with no internal border controls. It currently consists of 26 European countries with a population of over 400 million people and area an of 4,312,099 sq km.
Schengen is not really a shopper’s paradise, except for a few souvenirs, but it surely is a dreamland for wine connoisseurs and beer lovers. Just a stone’s throw away is the grotesque Schengen Castle. The historic castle was sold to the Regus Group for a whopping €11 million in February of last year, owing to the financial crisis that still has its firm grip over Europe. French writer Victor Hugo once visited the place and was charmed by its beauty.
The Schengen palace dates back to 1390 but was almost completely rebuilt in the 19th century. It is now a hotel and conference centre. The Schengen agreement on borderless travel in the European Union was signed here in 1985.
Today the existence of this treaty, which was born in this sleepy European village, has come into question due to Brexit, although the rest of the EU countries are still bound by the Schengen agreement. South Asian countries too followed in forming such a group but due to their internal security reasons, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation never formed as per its wishes.
The castle has survived both the world wars, although parts of it had to be reconstructed. The Schengen village is a metaphor for the United States of Europe, although in reality it is in deep melancholy.