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Schengen zone expands eastwards

Free movement becomes reality for new Member States (07.01.2008)

Wednesday 9 January 2008

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Since the early beginning of the European project, the free movement principles have been the fundaments of European integration and cooperation.

The removal of internal borders was written into the Rome Treaty and was realized in the 1980s when the Benelux countries, Italy, France and Germany signed the Schengen Agreement (1985, Italy 1990). With Schengen they created a new European structure affecting the work of the national police forces and customs authorities. Its main goal was developing a common policy applying to all the Community’s external borders, making it easier to remove the internal borders. An ambitious goal of course, which was certainly not supported by all states (Denmark, the UK and Ireland remained sceptical). The Schengen compromise became a model for the EU as a whole. To improve the cooperation between the different police and judicial authorities in order to reconcile freedom and security, the Schengen Information System (SIS) was set up. This can be seen as a sophisticated database to exchange data on certain goods and people. The Schengen area gradually covered all Member States. Spain and Portugal joined in 1991, Greece in 1992, Austria in 1995, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in 1996. Ireland and the UK are only taking part in some aspects of the agreement.

In 2004 the European Union was enlarged with 10 new Member States. The 8 Central and Eastern European countries and Cyprus and Malta considered the free movement principle as one of the most important benefits accompanying EU membership. In December 2007 all new Member States except Cyprus joined the Schengen zone, which now counts 22 countries (plus Iceland and Norway). Candidates for a next Schengen enlargement round are Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Switzerland.

With Slovenia at the helm of the European Union the coming six months, and sharing an external border itself, the focus will be on border issues such as migration and terrorism. The status of Europol, already heavily discussed during both the German and the Portuguese presidencies, will also be a point on this presidency’s agenda.

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