Svoboda - Czechs should be ready to join Schengen Area in October 2007

Фото: Европейская комиссия

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda announced at the weekend that the Czech Republic should be ready to join the Schengen Area by October next year. The 1985 Schengen Agreement, which allows for common immigration policies and a common border system, covers much of Europe, and will soon cover this country too.

Photo: European Commission
The Schengen Agreement is something of a strange animal. Many people assume it was something thought up by the European Union: it wasn't, though confusingly it is now under the EU's competences. Equally confusingly, not all EU members are in Schengen, and not all Schengen members are in the EU.

In 1985 the leaders of five European countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - got together on a boat near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg and signed an agreement to do away with the borders between them.

Since then, 26 countries have signed the Schengen Agreement. Most of them are EU countries, but they also include Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Only 15 have actually implemented it and have removed their common borders. The rest - the Czech Republic included - are members but haven't yet put it into practice yet.

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda
To implement Schengen, each country has to be prepared in four key areas: air borders, visas, police cooperation, and personal data protection. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda says the Czech Republic will be ready to implement the treaty by October 2007 - the date agreed when country joined EU in 2004.

At present, a Czech citizen travelling from, say, the Czech Republic to Germany usually has to present some form of ID - a passport or ID card. From October 2007 he or she will show nothing - indeed there will literally be no-one to show it to.

As for visitors outside Europe, all they will need is the common Schengen visa issued by the embassy of the Schengen country they intend to visit first. From that point on, they will be able to visit any other country which has implemented Schengen without showing any form of identification.

This has considerable consequences for the EU's immigration policy or policy on terrorism. A person acceptable to one European country might not be acceptable to another, but if both countries have implemented Schengen, there is no legal means to deny them entry. It is not surprising, perhaps, that many people are calling for the EU to agree on a uniform immigration and asylum system as soon as possible.