The European Parliament has approved, by a large majority, a resolution to expand the Schengen Zone to nine new countries, including Poland. This means internal land and sea border checks will be abolished as of Dec. 21, 2007 while restrictions on air borders will be lifted by March 2008 providing that the new member states fulfill all the Schengen requirements.
The political resolution was accepted by the Council of the EU last week, but to be formally adopted it also needed the approval of the European Parliament. On Nov. 14, 468 MEPs (members of European Parliament) supported the inclusion of the nine countries in the zone, while only 21 were opposed. The decision extends the passport-free travel system to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Schengen system allows citizens of participating states to move freely within the area and allows foreigners to travel throughout the zone on a single visa. It doesn’t mean, however, a lack of protection on the borders. New Schengen members also will adopt the Schengen Information System (SIS), a sophisticated passport database which national border-control and other customs and police control authorities can use to exchange information on persons and property, and give mutual operational assistance. When the zone expansion takes place on Dec. 21, Jose Sokrates, the prime minister of Portugal, will symbolically cross the border with Slovenia, the country which will take the chair of the EU next year.
Another enlargement of the Schengen Zone will occur at the end of 2008, when Switzerland and Lichtenstein are expected to become full members. They already have signed an association agreement with the EU, but it has not taken effect yet. Cyprus may fully join the Schengen zone in 2009 whereas Bulgaria and Romania are not expected to fully participate before 2011.