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EU sets 2007 target to lift borders with new states

Written by: Staff
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BRUSSELS, Dec 5 (Reuters) The EU will lift land and sea border controls on its newest states on December. 31, 2007 and airport checks in March 2008, provided they fulfil security and technical criteria, its interior ministers agreed today.

''This decision means Europe will not stay divided in two categories of states, two categories of people,'' Czech Interior minister Ivan Langer told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.

The existing borderless area, the so-called ''Schengen'' area, includes the 13 old European Union member states plus Norway and Iceland but excludes Britain and Ireland. It has no internal border posts and checks.

But because of delays setting up a new police database on stolen vehicles and people searched to allow greater cooperation across the enlarged bloc, the expansion of the Schengen area to the 10 countries which joined in 2004, first planned for October 2007, was set to be delayed to the end of 2008 or early 2009.

But under pressure from the newer states, who complained of being deprived of the rights enjoyed by other member states, ministers agreed to aim to let all but Cyprus access the current database, to allow for an earlier lifting of the border controls.

For the controls to be lifted on time, the new EU states will need to prove their borders with non-EU states are safe and that they are technically ready to work with the database, which diplomats from some old states say will be very difficult.

''It's too short, too tight,'' one said.

The EU newcomers are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Cyprus would not be technically ready to join the old police database and have its borders lifted at the same time as the nine others, an EU official said.

Diplomats from some new member states had previously accused old EU countries of using technical hurdles as a pretext to delay the Schengen enlargement at a time of growing public fears about the impact of immigration.

REUTERS PDM PM1930

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