My wife and I both have memories of numerous stops at national borders in Europe in the 80's and 90's. Passports were stamped, currency was changed -- in fact, we often had to carry four or five different currencies with us, depending on the number of countries we were going to be traveling through. The number of stamps in our passports shrank dramatically, however, with the creation of the Schengen Area.
Many people think the open borders in Western Europe coincided with the creation of the Euro zone, but in fact, they were and are two separate entities. I have to confess to not knowing until today where the name "Schengen" comes from: it is the name of the town in Luxembourg where the agreement between 22 of the 28 countries of the then European Community was signed. The idea was to facilitate travel between these countries, effectively becoming a single country as far as international travel is concerned. (The Euro zone came later, establishing the euro as the common currency for nineteen member states in 2000.)
Today, the open borders are a subject of great tension and debate. Over one million refugees have flooded into the Schengen Area, creating enormous strain on a system that most Europeans don't want to see reversed. And yet, the 20-year-old agreement seems on the breaking point. Even the countries whose arms were the most open to welcome the hundreds of thousands of migrants, such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark, are reining in their liberal policies as they groan under the weight. The Danish parliament has even passed a plan where border officials can seize any assets above $1450 from migrants, as long as said items are considered non-essential and have no sentimental value.
It's looking possible that the open borders of the Schengen area could be suspended for up to two years. It could be hello again to long lines and waits at border crossings, something the younger generation knows nothing about.
But more importantly, the fate of the refugees who continue to stream into Europe, primarily through Greece, remains uncertain at best. My wife and I have been greatly impacted by this situation -- stay tuned for further developments as we look at possible ways to be of service.