French-Belgian Customs Office
In 1985 the name of a small village in Luxembourg became a household name all across Europe. The village was Schengen. European leaders had met there in the summer of 1985, and signed a treaty pledging to abolish the common, internal borders of the European Union. It was agreed that passport controls and border checks would be phased out.
Schengen -- the Luxembourgish wine-making village of just over 4,000 -- was seen as a symbolic location to sign the treaty, due to the village’s location at the tri-point between Luxembourg, France and Germany. But Schengen was not a freakish anomaly; millions of Europeans lived close to a bordering country, and regularly made to-and-from journeys. The infrastructure and cost necessary to police the sheer number of crossings was considered burdensome, and the logic for abandoning border controls in the era of European integration was self-apparent. By 1995 all internal border crossings within the Schengen zone had been abolished.
In 2015 -- due to unprecedented migration from the war torn countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and because of the resultant failure of European countries to agree a unified response to the crisis -- the Schengen agreement looked strained and under threat. In seven different Schengen countries border controls were temporarily reintroduced, casting doubt on the long-term viability of the visa free travel zone. As the summer faded, though, the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe subsidised and the temporary border controls were lifted. Schengen just about survived.
So as things stand, the hundreds of customs offices across the European continent are little more than a blur at the side of the road to the millions that pass them by. Without as much as changing gear, one European country gives way to the next. Once these customs offices were frontiers. They policed traffic, they exchanged money, and they inspected passports and visas; now they stand empty and forgotten, decaying and rotting.
The pictures here are of an abandoned customs office between the Belgian region of Flanders and the French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The nearest town is Poperinge in Belgium. The site was visited on the 9th September, 2016.