Nine EU states to join border-free zone in December

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BRUSSELS, Oct 4 (Reuters) The European Union's border-free zone will be extended to nine additional member states on December 21, the bloc's Portuguese Presidency said.

From that date, people travelling from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to travel to the existing 15 states of the ''Schengen'' border-free zone without having to show their passports, a Presidency spokeswoman said.

''They will open on December 21,'' she said. ''All the nine borders will be opened.'' The nine countries all joined the European Union in 2004.

EU ministers will officially endorse the move next month, the spokeswoman said.

Thirteen EU countries, plus Norway and Iceland, are currently part of the border-free zone. Britain and Ireland have chosen not to be part of it.

Cyprus, which also joined the EU in 2004, has asked for one year's delay. Romania and Bulgaria, which became EU members only this year, need to do more work to meet security criteria.

REUTERS SZ HT0852

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