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Schengen Zone expands
by Amin George Forji
2006-12-08 10:33:41
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The Schengen Agreement came into force on June 14th 1985 to end internal border checkpoints and controls. It is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the best initiatives that has come to Europe in this century.

The Schengen visa allows its 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 December 5th announced that, upon consideration, they have come up with a definite timetable that would enable the EU’s newest members, who have already signed the Schengen treaty but yet to implement it, to accede the free border zone.

Originally, only five countries, France, West Germany, Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium were signatories in Schengen, the small town in Luxembourg where the agreement was reached. Since then, the treaty has expanded to include 26 states in Europe, with the exception of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as well as three other non-EU states (Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

Nevertheless, only Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden have implemented the treaty. With the exception of Iceland and Norway, all the others are EU countries and all the new members of the organization since May 1st 2004 are 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 early in 2008 to all the other nine members who joined the EU in 2004. The timetable 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 newcomers to temporarily 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, explained. "We firmly believe that we will be crossing the borders without a passport at the end of next year," he added.

The newcomers 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 borders are well secured first.

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