EU immigration fears over Polish visa deal with Russia
Published 28/12/2010 | 05:00
POLAND is pushing for citizens of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to have visa-free travel, despite fears this could increase smuggling and illegal migration into the European Union.
As part of a Polish policy to improve co-operation with Russia, Warsaw wants to sign a bilateral agreement with Moscow that would allow Kaliningrad's citizens to cross into Poland unfettered by visas.
Kaliningrad is a territory on the Baltic Sea, bordered by Poland and Lithuania, which was annexed from Germany in 1945. The visa plan has won Moscow's enthusiastic backing as it could breathe new life into the isolated enclave, which has been blighted by a struggling economy and high rates of crime.
It also dovetails with aspirations to turn Kaliningrad, which is surrounded entirely by EU states, into a Russian version of Hong Kong, benefiting from a more liberal economic and trade system.
But the plan comes at a time of heightened concerns over illegal migration in the continent. The EU's eastern frontier is a gateway for smuggled goods.
With cigarettes costing just a few pence in Russia and Ukraine, the European Commission estimates that 10pc of all cigarettes sold in the EU are contraband, and that EU states lose about £8.5bn (€9.9bn) in taxes because of the illegal trade.
Fears abound that a relaxed border regime will allow illegal migrants and criminals to take advantage of Poland's Schengen zone status and disappear into continental Europe.
Poland will have to persuade the European Commission to amend regulations on local border agreements.
Kaliningrad covers just 5,800 square miles, and is home to a million people. (© Daily Telegraph, London)