Schengen enlargement tabled for end of 2007

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Internal border controls will be dropped if new member states comply with all requirements.

Interior ministers decided on 5 December 2006 to go ahead with the enlargement of the Schengen area to include the ten new member states that joined the Union in 2004. Land and sea borders will be phased out from 31 December 2007, and airports will follow from 29 March 2008 at the latest. 

Portugal presented a compromise proposal that put an end to the tensions between the old and new member states. The deal foresees that the EU-10 temporarily maintain their old visa-data system, SISone4all, until SIS II is in place.

Finnish Interior Minister Kari Rajamäki said: “The abolition of internal border controls will have a great impact on the security of our citizens. For this reason, we must make sure that the Schengen Information System is secure and that the new member states are ready to fulfil all the requirements of the Schengen acquis.”

The Schengen enlargement is tied to two conditions: the new member states must fulfil the security requirements for their external borders and the Schengen information system must be functioning in the new member states. This means that the new member states may join the Schengen zone at different times, according to their preparedness.

The cost of the enlargement of the network will be borne by Schengen members only.

Ahead of the Council meeting, Austrian Interior Minister Liese Prokop made remarks signalling that Slovakia was a "problematic case" concerning the protection of borders.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico responded, saying: "I perceive these initiatives as the initiatives aimed at delaying our integration with Schengen at any cost." He accused the EU of applying "double standards".

"Finland, Germany and Portugal have jointly prepared a timetable according to which the final decision to lift internal border controls could be made by the end of 2007. In our view, this timetable is realistic and viable," said Finnish Interior Minister Kari Rajamäki.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that Europe would "gain more security" through the Schengen enlargement, if the system works and the level of control is maintained. He added that old member states should not think that new member states were less reliable.

The Schengen area constitutes a border-free travel zone within the EU among the old member states, with the exception of Great Britain and Ireland. Non-EU countries, such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are also included in the Schengen zone.

Originally, it was foreseen that the ten new member states would join the Schengen area by October 2007. However, this enlargement was delayed; the Commission blamed technical problems with the installation of the SIS II control system, which links national passport databases. The new members suspected political reasons behind the delay and bemoaned a lack of trust of the part of current Schengen members.

  • By February 2007, the Commission is to present a revised timetable for SIS II.
  • By the end of 2007, the interior ministers will take the final decision, whether all necessary conditions are met, in the Council under the Portuguese presidency. 

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