Schengen Zone expands to include new EU members

Amin George Forji

The Schengen agreement that came into force on the 14th of June 1985 to end internal border checkpoints and controls. It is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the best news that has come to Europe in this century. The Schengen visa allows it’s owner access to all the signatory states for up to three months, for both nationals and non EU citizens. With every EU country scrambling to join the agreement, Schengen is not far from becoming another name of the EU. A board meeting of the EU interior and Justice Ministers on Tuesday Dec. 5th announced that upon consideration, they have come up with a definite timetable that would enable EU’s newest members, who have already signed the Schengen treaty but yet to implement it, to accede the free border zone.

The name Schengen itself has it’s origin from the small town in Luxembourg where the agreement was reached. Although just five countries, France, West Germany, Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium were signatories then, the treaty has nonetheless since expanded to include 26 states in Europe- in fact all EU countries with the exception of the UK and the Rep. of Ireland, as well as three other non EU states, notably: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Nevertheless, only 15 of these countries so far implement the treaty, notably: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. With the exception of Iceland and Norway, all the others are EU countries. All the new members of the organization since May 1st 2004, were still to implement the treaty.

The recent decision of the EU interior and justice ministers provides that with the exception of Cyprus, the Schengen doors will be opened to all the other nine members who joined the EU in 2004, early in 2008. The timetable released on Tuesday stipulates that land and maritime borders will be removed as from December 31st 2007, while border control at airports on their part will be lifted as from March 2008.
The decision further allows the new comers to temporaily link up with the current Schengen visa system, pending the launching of a new version in June 2008.

“This decision means Europe will not be divided in two categories of states, two categories of people. We are going to share not only duties but also freedoms,” Ivan Langer, the Czech Interior Minister, told reporters.

“We firmly believe that we will be crossing the borders without passport at the end of next year,” he added, smiling.

The new comers in question are: Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. France and Germany have long resisted their full entry saying they must first demonstrate that their non- schengen borders are well secured.

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