Friday

20th Sep 2019

EU marks 'historical' enlargement of borderless zone

The EU's borderless zone expanded to nine mostly eastern European countries at midnight on Friday (21 December) in its biggest enlargement so far.

Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - which all joined the EU in 2004 - are part of this enlargement to the so-called Schengen area.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Land and sea border checks between them and the other Schengen countries are now abolished, while air borders are set to follow on 30 March 2008.

Practically it means that as of 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", EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said in a statement.

"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", he added.

Meanwhile, celebrations were held and are to be held throughout Friday on several border points to mark the occasion.

However, some were more enthusiastic than others. While Slovaks were celebrating until late in the night on Friday at the country's border with ‘old' member state Austria, no celebrations could be noted on the Austrian side.

A recent poll carried out in Austria showed 75% of its citizens opposed the lifting of barriers, according to the BBC.

Fears of crime wave

While many EU citizens are looking forward to the free movement regime, others have expressed fears that it will lead to an increase of crime and illegal immigration.

Politicians dismissed the fears, however.

Schengen "is not about criminality, it is not about insecurity or fear. It is a bigger zone of peace, security and stability", Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said in Slovakia on Thursday (20 December).

"It's an historic occasion following the destruction by the first and second world wars and the division of our continent by the Iron Curtain (…) Free borders in a free Europe: who would have dared to even dream of that in 1985", Mr Gusenbauer added.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: "Together we have overcome border controls as man-made obstacles to peace, freedom and unity in Europe".

And what about EU neighbours?

While the enlargement of the Schengen area means that some 400 million EU citizens will now be able to travel more easily within it, it also constitutes a new burden for some EU neighbours.

The short stay Schengen visa currently costs €60 for third country nationals and is a significant increase for some non-EU citizens.

Until now, Belarussians have paid €5 for a trip to neighbouring Lithuania.

Other EU neighbours - the Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania – have concluded visa facilitation agreements with the EU, which are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2008.

Russian citizens are also covered by such a deal, which entered into force in June this year.

Under the visa facilitation agreements, citizens of these countries can obtain a Schengen visa for €35, while certain categories of citizens are exempted from the fee.

The Schengen area was established in 1985 and named after the small Luxembourg village where it was signed by Germany, the Benelux countries and France.

The nine new countries joined the 15 others already in Schengen - thirteen EU states excluding the UK and Ireland which preferred to stay out, but including Norway and Iceland.

Non-EU member Switzerland is also to become a member of the Schengen area next year, while three EU states – Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania have still to meet the necessary requirements.

It is not yet known when they will join the EU's borderless zone, but Cyprus is expected to do so around 2009, while Bulgaria and Romania are hoping to follow suit by 2011.

EU okays surveillance cameras at Slovene-Italian border

A proposal by the mayor of an Italian town bordering Slovenia to put cameras on the frontier between the two countries does not breach rules covering the EU's borderless zone, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  2. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  3. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  4. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  5. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  6. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  7. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  8. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us