Slovenia held a celebration Saturday marking the elimination of borders between nine new EU members and the rest of the bloc, just a week before the former communist country takes over the EU presidency.
On Friday, the nine new EU members were officially incorporated into the Schengen frontier-free zone of Europe, which now stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic.
"This is something we did not ever dare to dream of 15 years ago," Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said at Saturday's ceremony celebrating the expansion of the EU passport-free zone to Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta. The nine nations, most of them formerly communist, joined the EU bloc in 2004.
The expansion now gives a total of 400 million people the ability to move freely across 24 European nations.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the elimination of borders sent a "very powerful signal of unity" within Europe.
"If we want to have a stronger Europe, we need to show our people that Europe brings concrete results, not just words," he said.
Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates symbolically turned over his country's six-month rotating EU presidency to Jansa, whose tiny Alpine country of 2 million will hold it as of Jan. 1.
Yugoslavia _ which Slovenia was part of until independence in 1991 _ lived under a milder version of communism, and most people traveled freely both to the East and West.
But customs checks were tight, and the amount of goods that could be imported was limited; many people who lived in the former Yugoslavia remember fretting as customs officials checked their luggage or the trunks of their cars, often finding at least one too many pairs of Italian shoes or boxes of detergent.
At the now-obsolete border crossing in Nova Gorica, an art group set up a so-called "Confessional Room" to film people's recollections of petty smuggling of goods from Italy.
With the expansion of the passport-free zone, the EU has tightened controls on its eastern borders against organized crime, illegal immigration and terrorism.
The main front line against illegal immigration, however, lies to the south with thousands each year attempting hazardous sea journeys to reach the coasts of Spain, Italy, Malta and Greece, or overland trips to the Balkans through Turkey.
Barroso played down fears of some that the new members were not ready to guard their EU borders, saying the EU has earmarked euro1 billion (US$1.43 billion) to boost security in those areas, the state-run news agency STA reported.
Italy's interior minister, Giuliano Amato, said: "We can assure everyone that the fall of the border between Italy and Slovenia is not a fall of security, but an increase of freedom."
Slovenia now controls 760 kilometers (472 miles) of EU border.
Neighboring Croatia, which is due to join the EU in 2010, has been granted a concession allowing its citizens to travel to Slovenia, Hungary and Italy with identification cards only. People from Serbia, however, would need EU travel visas.
Associated Press Writer Snjezana Vukic contributed to this report.