Brussels, 20 December 2007
As of 21st December 2007, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will become part of the Schengen area. Controls at internal land and sea borders between these countries and the current 15 member states will be lifted. This will result in a very tangible expression of the free movement ideal: this latest enlargement extends the free movement area by 4,278 km.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso said "As from today people can travel hassle-free between 24 countries of the Schengen area without internal land and sea border controls- from Portugal to Poland and from Greece to Finland. I wish to congratulate the nine new Schengen members, the Portuguese presidency and all EU Member States for their efforts. Together we have overcome border controls as man-made obstacles to peace, freedom and unity in Europe, while creating the conditions for increased security".
Vice-President, Franco Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Freedom, Justice, and Security declared: "An area of 24 countries without internal borders is a unique and historical achievement. I feel very proud and privileged to have been involved in making it happen. Joining the Schengen space is not an easy undertaking. I give enormous credit to these Member States. All the new member countries, who have put in place significant, state of the art border security systems. Indeed, the extension of Schengen demonstrates the EU's commitment to facilitating legitimate travelling within and into the EU whilst at the same time reinforcing the security of our external borders and thereby strengthening the safety of all EU citizens ".
Following enlargement, all citizens of the enlarged Schengen space will benefit from quicker and easier travelling. From 21 December onwards, a citizen can travel from the Iberian Peninsula to the Baltic States and from Greece to Finland without border checks. This is symbolic of a united Europe and underlines the basic right of European citizens to move freely.
It will be easier for families, relatives and friends living on different sides of a border to visit each other. Eternal queues at (busy) border crossing points will no longer exist. Border regions will develop together as it will be easier to travel from one region to the other. An increase in tourism is expected, with a positive impact on infrastructure. Evidence of previous enlargements effectively demonstrates this: for instance, at the Salzburg/Berchtesgaden border citizens take advantage of infrastructure on each side of the border, including a large commercial centre at the Austrian side of the border, and a large health and fitness centre on the German side.
Lifting internal border control is also a question of trust between the Member States. It is through a rigorous peer evaluation process that Member States have ensured each member state is equipped to guard the external borders on behalf of all other members and issue visas valid for the whole Schengen area. The new Member States have worked tirelessly to improve, their handling of external border controls, visa policy, data protection and police cooperation.
Their connection to the Schengen Information System - which shares information on wanted and missing people, those refused entry, and lost and stolen property – was assured before membership could be agreed. Justice and Home Affairs Ministers concluded, in November, that the Schengen acquis criteria had been met by all candidate countries. This would not have been possible without financial solidarity. The Schengen Facility, which provided nearly one billion Euro, has enabled the new Member countries to meet, in particular, the challenge of building up efficient border controls and to become full partners in the Schengen area.
The checks on external borders remain the same as new Member States to the EU ha been applying the Schengen external border acquis since accession. The only difference will be that the new Member States will also check third country nationals in the Schengen Information System (SIS). Access to the SIS by police forces on both sides of the frontier will enhance and strengthen security at the borders.
For bona fide travellers, travels in an enlarged EU will be faster and
easier. A third country national will be able to travel on the basis of one
Schengen visa and will not need separate national visas.