EU interior ministers say nine new countries ready for Schengen zone

Ivan Langer, photo: CTK

The interior ministers of nine countries who are soon set to join the Schengen free travel zone met representatives of countries already in the system in Prague on Friday and Saturday. The unanimous conclusion: the Czech Republic and the other eight new states are well prepared for the abolishing of border checks and becoming part of the Schengen area.

Ivan Langer and Jose Magalhaes,  photo: CTK
The fifth such meeting of EU interior ministers had one clear mission: to see if the nine countries that joined the European Union in recent years are ready to join Schengen. After their meeting concluded at Prague Castle on Friday, the message was also clear: all nine states, including the Czech Republic, had well adopted a new information system, called Onesys4all, that enables them to monitor security risks even without controls on their borders with other Schengen zone members, and are therefore ready to join in on December 21 this year. Portugal currently holds the EU presidency and designed the joint information system. Portuguese Deputy Interior Minister Jose Magalhaes"

"That new system using the internet, cellular phones, modern communication, and most of all and above all, a new way of working together allowed us to detect obstacles, to invent solutions. My first word is to congratulate you because the effort was led by your countries working together and helping each other. This is what Europe was made for."

The ministers and other officials of the EU countries adopted a document entitled the Prague Declaration. It makes it clear that for the Schengen newcomers, free movement without border control is more than a tool for further integration within the European Union; they consider it a fundamental freedom that goes with being part of Europe. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble welcomed the new members on behalf of one of the old member states.

"Enlargement of the Schengen system is not a matter of generosity by the old member states. It is a matter of self-interest of all European member states because living in Europe and border checking is such an advantage and freedom. Abolishing border checks and replacing them with better, more constructive and more substantial police cooperation means even more security. Therefore we can have in our European development more freedom, more security and more justice. That's what we are doing, and we can therefore really celebrate this historical event."

Interior Minister Ivan Langer,  photo: CTK
According to the ministers, the new information system will brings more security to the EU because information about missing persons, stolen documents, stolen vehicles, etc. will be shared on-line among all member states of the Schengen zone.

Some old Schengen countries, most notably Austria, have however announced that they will keep policing their borders with the new Schengen members even after they join. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer hopes this won't be necessary.

"All the modes of border controls must work under the Schengen code. I think that we are going to persuade our neighbours that we are ready; the Schengen evaluation committee said we are ready. This means that there are no serious reasons for arranging some transitional periods or anything of the kind."

This sensitive issue will be resolved in November when the Czech and Austrian interior ministers will meet to agree on whether the new security guarantees are sufficient for the Czechs' southern neighbours.