Borderless EU to absorb nine new countries by December 31
Nine new European Union member nations are on course to join the bloc's borderless travel zone by the end of the year, despite security concerns by some of the older EU members, according to Germany's Interior minister.
Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Czech Republic are scheduled to join the so-called Schengen zone on December 31, abolishing overland border checks. The air borders of the nine countries are scheduled to open by March 2008. The accession to Schengen has a major symbolic significance for the EU newcomers, mostly former Communist countries, which see the freedom of movement within the union as one of the basic liberties stemming from EU membership. ''There is no reason to doubt that any of the countries would be unable to join Schengen by the end of the year'' Interior Minister Wolfgang SchÃÃ‚Â¤uble told journalists a week before his country was to hand over the EU six-month rotating presidency to Portugal. He said there were still "individual problems" the countries had to solve in aligning their border and Customs security standards with Schengen zone members. Austria, which has a long border with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has pushed for the December date to be postponed, fearing the two countries will not be ready to join. "That timetable and all the conditions ... will be met", insisted SchÃÃ‚Â¤ble. "German police are going to be reorganized. There's going to be trouble at home but we're going ahead". Cyprus, which also joined the EU in 2004, has opted to keep some border checks in place.