eu expands visa-free travel to nine more countries
by Vittorio Hernandez
Brussels, Belgium (AHN) - European Union Interior Ministers approved Thursday the inclusion of nine nations in its Schengen visa system. Now, nationals and travelers coming from nine more European countries can travel visa-free within the 27-member bloc.
The nine countries that will benefit from the visa-free arrangement are Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania.
The EU agreed to include the nine nations in its Schengen visa system after they met conditions set by the Council of Ministers. The first condition is to be connected to the electronic database which allows border authorities to check details on wanted people, objects or vehicles while crossing national boundaries. The second is improved improved border security.
The eased border control will immediately apply only to land and sea travel. Passport controls in airports will be lifted by April 2008.
This development is expected to end long lines of people and vehicles at borders from the nine countries. It is seen as symbolic of the reintegration by former Soviet states into the European mainstream.
Festivities will be held in the Baltic States and land boundaries between Slovenia and Italy, Poland and Germany and Austria and Hungary to celebrate the EU decision. On December 21, European Commissioner for Justice Franco Frattini and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates will fly to the four locations to lead the celebration.
The expansion of EU's Schengen visa system is the latest in the series of border control and migration reforms the bloc has initiated. On October the Frattini unveiled the blue card system that allows non-EU migrants to work in any countries of the Union and subsequently seek permanent residency