The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

October 27, 2004

The freedom of movement

At some point I stopped wearing leather jackets when I was travelling by airplane. For a while, I used to think that leather jackets were ideal for travel — rugged material, suitable for any medium-to-cold, dry-to-humid weather, but then the baggage controls just became too much of a nuisance. For some reason the customs officers would always single out me, the sole leather jacket wearer on the airplane, and rummage through my baggage. What they expected to find I don't know — they certainly never found anything more incriminating than sweaty socks and dirty underwear — and why they thought wearing a leather jacket was a sign that I had something fishy (other than cans of tuna) in my bag is also beyond me. At any rate, at some point I simply stopped wearing leather jackets, and I haven't been singled out for a baggage control even once since then.

Theoretically, there is the freedom of movement between EU countries. This means that there are no obstacles that would hinder you from moving into any other EU country of your choice. Many EU countries have even joined the Schengen treaty, which means there are no more passport and customs controls when you cross from one Schengen country into another. You can fly from Vienna to Crete without showing your passport even once.

I don't know the exact wording of the Schengen treaty, but it seems that night trains must be explicitly exempt from it. That it because Austrian officials are patrolling the international night trains to and from Vienna like mad these days. Expect armed police officers with dogs on the night train from Amsterdam (as if anyone who isn't stoned beyond comprehension would be stupid enough to smuggle drugs on the night train), brutal, muscular guys with bulletproof vests and fireproof overalls on the train from Warsaw, and two normal-looking, but somewhat aggressive men in black jackets on the train to Rome.

In short, the two normal-looking men in the black jackets on the train to Rome refused to let me leave the country because I had forgotten my passport. They ignored my pleas of "but there's the Schengen treaty, and I don't need a passport to cross the border" with the brief statement, "yes, but this is not a border control, this is a police control, and we want to see your passport if you want to stay on this train." My driver's licence (issued by the same government body with roughly the same information in it) didn't suffice. Instead, they threatened to charge me a €300 fine if I didn't leave the train at the next station.

I didn't find their arguments too convincing, but the fine was an incentive to cut my holidays one day short, get off the train, return to Vienna, get the passport and spend all of the next day (from 06:10 hrs to 19:45 hrs, to be precise), on a different train to Rome with a small detour via Innsbruck (this being the only decent connection). Nobody wanted to see my passport on that train. But then it wasn't a night train, and as we all know, terrorists and drug dealers only travel by night train.

And I hadn't even worn a leather jacket.

Posted by Horst on October 27, 2004 10:40 PM to my so-called life | Tell-a-friend

We received this ping from PapaScott on October 27, 2004 11:40 PM:

Freedom of Movement: The Aardvark Speaks: The freedom of movement With Schengen, you can travel throughout Europe without showing a passport. Unless you take a night train. Or wear a leather jacket.... [more]

laura said on October 28, 2004 05:50 AM:

Maybe these bouncers are trying to steroid their way to success, like Schwarzenneger. If you had made a xeorox of the passport, would that have worked? At least most of your trip was efficient, considering the cornucopia of lovely spots close to one another in Europe. If you're on vacation in America, there's lots of what we call "flyover country" between the two coasts.

dieter said on October 28, 2004 10:51 AM:

I also don't know the exact wording of the Shengen treaty. One clause, however is, that instead of controlling you right at the border, customs officers now have a rather generously defined strip on *both* sides of the border where they are allowed to make random checks. Forget about the freedom thing.

Another point is that you have to be able to prove your identity at any time, even if you only go one block to buy cigarettes or something. Though, I don't know whether a driver's licence is valid or not. The fine is the most curious part in this context, since you failed to identify yourself in Austria just like in Italy.

Maybe you should check with a lawyer whether you could sue those guys for harassment and to pay back your extra costs including the holiday you lost.

nora said on October 28, 2004 02:27 PM:

hey, the red sox won the world series, and they weren't wearing leather jackets, either.

Ingmar Greil said on October 28, 2004 06:40 PM:

Actually, contrary to eg Germany there is no obligation to carry an ID card of any sort in Austria. (Trust me, I'm a lawyer :-)

There is, however, the obligation to carry a passport or personal ID card (Personalausweis. Driver's licence is not sufficient) when crossing frontiers (and borders, of course, frontiers being the borders within the EU/Schengen area), even if it does not get checked.

Gibarian said on October 28, 2004 07:39 PM:

Another interesting fact is that Vorarlberg is virtually one big Zollgrenzbezirk. Having borders with both Switzerland and Germany to the north and south and west, there's nary a place where the MÜG, the mobile surveillance group is not allowed to search you. Which is a bit scary.

dieter said on October 29, 2004 12:27 PM:

Thank you Ingmar. I thought they changed legislation some ten years ago...

Scary indeed, Gibarian. My wife once got into serious trouble when we went to visit my parents there. And we definitely had no plan to cross the border.

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