EU borderless zone to be extended to airports
At midnight on Sunday (30 March) the enlargement of the EU's borderless zone to eight Eastern European countries and Malta will be completed through the lifting of air border controls between them and the 15 countries already part of the area.
The enlargement of the so-called Schengen area started on 21 December when land and sea border checks between Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and the other Schengen countries were abolished.
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"The enlargement of the Schengen zone to 24 member states is now complete," EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot stated on Friday (28 March) referring to the inclusion of airports.
"I would like to underline the symbolic and concrete importance of this change," he said.
"The free movement of persons represents one of the fundamental [EU] principles. [It is] concrete, as the life of the citizens moving within the Schengen zone will be very simplified," he added.
While air companies will continue to perform identity checks at check-in and boarding, people will from Sunday onwards be allowed to fly from one airport to another within the Schengen area without being subjected to other formalities.
In addition, "it will be the end of a certain number of long queues and procedures for EU citizens, as well as for third country nationals travelling within Schengen by air", said Mr Barrot.
In order to celebrate the lifting of air borders, several member states have planned media events at their main airports.
At the airport of Ljubljana, the capital of current EU president country Slovenia, EU commissioner Janez Potocnik, himself from Slovenia, will represent the European Commission at a ceremony celebrating the border opening.
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.
It now comprises 22 EU member states, as well as Norway and Iceland.
Non-EU member Switzerland is also to become a member of the Schengen area later this year, while EU members Ireland and the UK do not participate in the zone.
Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania still have to meet the necessary requirements. It is not yet known when they will join Schengen, but Cyprus is expected to do so around 2009, while Bulgaria and Romania are hoping to follow suit by 2011.