Central Europe Activ

When the Central European countries joined the Schengen no border control zone, most people were joyful. A number of municipalities went against history and tried to block entry through the invisible border. After the Slovakian-Hungarian border we move to Austria and Hungary to see why.

early joy on the day of Hungary’s EU accession in 2004Mörbisch am See/Meggyes (A) and Fert?rákos/Kroisbach (HU) are two villages in the Austrian-Hungarian border. In this case both municipalities have belonged to the former Hungarian Kingdom before 1920 but were dominantly ethnic German. Fert?rákos had been a presumably Hungarian ethnic village in the until the 18th century when in became almost uninhabited. The new settlers in the 18th century arrived from the current Austria and Czech Republic, and by the early 20th century it became 80% German-speaking. Mörbisch had a Hungarian history, too, but it also became a German majority village and became Austrian after the breakup of the former Monarchy. After 1945 most of the inhabitants were deported to Germany under the Paris Peace Treaty. (It is little remembered nowadays that before the foundation of the EU the allied forces thought that ethnic homogenization will stabilize the European peace.) The village became Hungarian-dominated and much smaller (Fert?rákos history in Hungarian). Even though Austria was nominally neutral, the Iron Curtain fell between the two villages, Fert?rákos became a restricted border zone of the Communist Hungary, and the two villages were hermetically detached until 1989. In 2004. Hungary joined the European Union but the two villages were no real neighbors any more.

Except for bicycles and on horse-backMörbisch and some other villages in the Austrian side of the border have installed no entry traffic signs on the roads that were not open to the public before Hungary joined the no border control Schengen zone on 21 December 2007. The new measures mean that although Austria became only a stone-throw away in December, people driving a car or a bus have to make a 40 kilometer detour to Mörbisch. The Austrian villagers claim that they fear that the new traffic will pollute their noiseless homes. The Hungarians claim that the two villages are rivals in tourism and the detour would deter Mörbitsh’s guests to spend some money in Fert?rákos. Teasingly they claim that for the price of a spritzer in Mörbisch the tourist can have a liter or wine in Fert?rákos. Besides, many Hungarians work across the border and the physical hurdle is intended to limit the freedom of work in Austria where wages are higher.

A Hungarian MEP, Ms. Herczog, Edit asked the Commission about the case. Mr. Franco Frattini, answering on behalf of the Commission,

As of 21 December 2007, all persons who enter the Schengen area legally are allowed to cross internal borders with, and amongst, the new Schengen Member States without border checks. Member States must remove all obstacles to fluid traffic flow at road crossing points at internal borders, in particular speed limits not exclusively based on road-safety considerations. Naturally, it might take some time to abolish the obstacles as was the case in previous Schengen enlargements.

However, it must be stressed that the dismantling of internal border checks on persons does not affect the possibility of the Member States to have special regulations concerning other areas, not linked to the border checks, which may be in force in the border region. In this context, the Member States may have appropriate arrangements to regulate traffic of vehicles depending on local circumstances.

Obviously this answer lead nowhere. The case was taken over by Ms. Dobolyi, Alexandra, another Hungarian MEP, and the mayor of the Hungarian village make further steps, too. First of all, he placed welcome signs facing the no entry signs on the other side of the border. Than the people of Fert?rákos have built themselves a new road, which connects a paved but unmarked road on the Austrian side with an unpaved road on the Hungarian side. This new road was closed with a roadblock on the other side.

I believe that this case is very different from the Slovensko Nové Mesto case. In that case the main motivation is nationalism: an ethnically divided town struggles with the unexpected reunification. In the Mörbisch-Fertörákos case it looks that local market forces go against the tide of history.

Hello neighbor bench between Slovenia and HungaryThe creation of the single European market and the freedoms of the Union are abstractions – in fact, there are many local, regional and national markets, that have less and less barriers among them. I bet that the price and wage differences between the two villages will disappear soon and so will the traffic bans. After all it is not that difficult to walk a few hundred meters on unpaved road for a better job or a cheaper spritzer.

All comments are welcome.

Former posts: Hello neighbor, The force of nationalism, the Slovensko Nové Mesto/Sátoraljaújhely case. Fert?rákos is accidentally mentioned here.

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  1. It isn’t strictly true to say this border crossing point was completely closed before Hungary joined Schengen. During the summer months a pedestrian only crossing point was established between the two villages from the mid-1990s onwards. It is traversed by the “walk along the iron curtain” hiking trail which surrounds Sopron as well.

    I know both villages well, and the walk between them. It is a well frequented 30 minute walk between the two places. The convention has been that Austrians park on their side of the border and walk, cycle, or take the mini-train that connects the border to Fert?rákos. Part of the attraction of this walk is that the road is traffic free, and I don’t really for the life of me see what gains Fert?rákos would make from opening this road to traffic. In fact I suspect it would lose considerably.

    No-one here is suggesting that freedom of movement on foot or by bicycle not be allowed. The issue is opening the border to road traffic.

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