EU newcomers' entry to Schengen likely to be postponed

Photo: European Commission

The Czech Republic and the other nine countries which joined the European Union in 2004 may not be able to join the Schengen zone as originally planned in October 2007. EU officials are making no secret of the fact that the planned entry date will be almost impossible to meet, due to technical and legal problems in building a new police database for the extended alliance. The newcomers have been warned to expect a delay of a year or more.

The EU had originally planned to allow the ten mostly ex-communist states which joined the block two years ago into its border-free Schengen area in October of 2007. Now the European Commission is saying they will have to wait a year longer. Work on a new police database has fallen behind schedule to such an extent that meeting the original deadline is practically impossible. The base, which stores information on stolen vehicles and wanted persons, is vital for the expansion of the Schengen zone - and although the newcomers have berated the delay - EU officials say nothing can be done about it.

So what will this delay mean in practical terms to countries like the Czech Republic? Radek Khol from the Institute for International Relations says the repercussions will be psychological as well as practical - they will cost time and money.

"This is the practical manifestation of one of the fundamental EU freedoms -i.e. the freedom of movement of people that the EU had promised all the newcomers. So for them it is an indication that they are not yet full members of the EU because in practical life there are still police controls at the borders. Whether they are going on holiday or on a business trip people have to undergo all the required border control checks which - depending on the season, time of day etc.- may take a couple of minutes but may also mean long queues that take up hours."

How will it affect businesses?

"Naturally businesses have to queue up with all their goods and undergo the same checks as well while they see that between France and Germany or Belgium and Germany where there are no longer internal borders trucks carrying goods cross these borders in a matter of seconds. So the difference is quite apparent and one should not forget that there are also negative effects on the country's infrastructure because it means congestion of traffic in the border areas which affects the everyday life of ordinary citizens."

Photo: European Commission
For the stated reasons, four of the newcomers - the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have been pushing for the original deadline to be kept. However it is now obvious that these efforts have been in vain. A European Commission report published on Friday estimates that the new police database can be set up in June of 2008 at the earliest and then it would take at least another four months to integrate the newcomers.

A final decision is to be made - and a new deadline set - at a meeting of EU interior ministers in October. Two possible alternative solutions are still on the table - integrating the 10 newcomers into the old database or having two central data-bases running in parallel. Both these options have been described as time consuming and expensive - and diplomats in Brussels have indicated they are unlikely to be implemented.