Schengen high on agenda during Prague visit of commissioner for justice and home affairs

Ivan Langer, Franco Fratinni, Jiri Pospisil, photo: CTK

The vice president of the European Commission Franco Fratinni has been paying a brief visit to Prague. Mr Fratinni came to the Czech capital in his capacity as commissioner for justice and home affairs, and on Thursday held talks with the Czech interior minister, Ivan Langer, and justice minister, Jiri Pospisil. High on the agenda was the enlargement of Schengen later this year, when the Czech Republic and nine other states will be admitted to the border-free zone.

Franco Fratinni, photo: CTK
"I may say the Czech Republic is well on track to joining the Schengen area by December. We will be preparing everything in order to make it possible to lift land borders, and maritime borders - though that's not the case of the Czech Republic of course - by December of this year, by Christmas."

That is good news for those joining this year, given that for some time Brussels had talking of putting back enlargement until a later date; it was afraid newer EU members had not done enough to implement an enhanced border security system

Brussels relented, but, nevertheless, are the present 15 members worried about the accession of new, mostly ex-communist countries?

Ivan Langer, Franco Fratinni, Jiri Pospisil, photo: CTK
"Well, I would not say that current member states are worried about the enlargement. I would say all the security requirements should be met. The second precondition is that the system of interconnection of security at external borders be operational.

"The evaluation will be carried out on a state-by-state basis, but frankly speaking I talked about the Czech Republic. It's well on track. But our effort should be to bring together all the new member states to join Schengen by December."

Currently many Czechs are frustrated about having to get a visa to travel to the US and Canada, when citizens of those states can freely enter the Czech Republic. The Italian commissioner said he was working to change that perceived injustice.

Mirek Topolanek and Franco Fratinni, photo: CTK
"Our political goal is to overcome inequality between member states and member states. I've decided, after informing the Council in Luxembourg, to prepare - jointly with the president in office, Minister Scheuble of Germany - to send a letter to the United States and Canada reaffirming this clear political principle."

Franco Fratinni also discussed extradition with the Czech justice and interior ministers, and made reference to high profile cases in which Prague wants other states to hand over notorious fugitives Radovan Krejcir (wanted for murder and large-scale fraud) and the "pirate of Prague" Viktor Kozeny.

"I've been informed about quite sensitive cases concerning the Czech Republic, about South Africa or the Bahamas, where I think closer co-operation in harmonising the rules of extradition with international partners is absolutely necessary."