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EU's newest members given assurances they could join visa-free travel area in 2008

EU's newest members given assurances they could join visa-free travel area in 2008

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and seven other new European Union nations were given assurances on Thursday that the EU would do all it could for them to join the bloc's borderless travel system by June 2008 at the latest.
However EU justice and interior ministers rejected calls from the 10 new member states that their citizens be able to travel freely without passports within the 25-nation bloc as of October 2007, as previously promised.
Finland's Interior Minister Kari Rajamaki, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the bloc would do "everything in its power" to have the 10 nations join as soon as possible.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the new updated computer data system meant to run the so-called Schengen travel zone would be up and running as of June 2008.
He said "a temporary solution" allowing the 10 nations to link into the old visa data system will be arranged and a final decision on their entry to the travel zone will be made in December.
Frattini and the 15 older nations came under fire from most of the new members at the talks demanding they take action to ensure they could join in 2007, as previously promised.
Poland's Interior Minister Ludwik Dorn demanded a quick solution to the simmering dispute between the 15 older EU members and the 10 nations that joined two years ago.
New members have argued that the older members have intentionally delayed their entry into Schengen because they do not trust the new members' border and customs checks are up to EU standards.
"It is extremely difficult for us to accept a solution where a date would be postponed," Dorn told EU ministers. "For citizens, what counts is that internal borders are no more because this is a signal that the EU works."
Lithuania's Interior Minister Raimondas Sukys also backed calls by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia that the EU stick to a 2007 date, and insisted the issue be resolved at an EU leaders' summit in two weeks.
"When is the final date for opening the borders? It should be announced," he said.
Most new members claimed they would be able to pass EU security standards by October 2007.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble insisted the new members meet the stringent border security requirements before being allowed to join.
"New member states must fulfill the conditions _ otherwise Europe will not get more but less security," he said. A meeting of the EU ministers last month was told technical problems in setting up a new computer database to handle the enlarged travel system caused delays and would not be ready by 2007.
EU ministers on Thursday also kept on ice plans to sanction the United States over its refusal to grant visa-free travel to nationals from Greece, Cyprus, Malta and seven eastern European nations that joined the bloc in 2004.
The European Commission recommended Wednesday that the EU impose visa requirements on U.S. diplomats because Washington has failed to waive visas for all 25 EU nations.
Most EU nations were hesitant to back the move, and agreed to raise the issue again in November with the U.S. at talks in Washington.
Rajamaki said the EU feared the sanction could lead to a deterioration of trans-Atlantic ties while sensitive anti-terror negotiations on sharing airline passenger data were continuing.
Inclusion in the visa waiver program is a delicate issue for many former communist countries that have become EU members and close allies of Washington.
EU officials have long insisted visa waiver deals must be fully reciprocal, but U.S. officials claim Greece and nine of the 10 new EU members still fail to meet all the U.S. criteria necessary for joining the program.
In all, 27 countries are in the program, which allows their citizens to visit the United States for three months without a visa. The only new EU member state to enjoy the visa-waiver scheme is Slovenia.


Updated : 2021-05-11 05:29 GMT+08:00