Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tourism: End of passport controls

Using airports around Europe should get a lot easier from now on as passport controls in 9 European Union states were phased out Sunday 30 March. The move marks another step in the extension of the Schengen area which saw the ending of passport checks at land and sea borders in those countries just before last Christmas. It brings to 24 the number of countries in Schengen - with all but 2 being in the EU. In November last year MEPs voted to back the latest extension to the free movement zone.

In November last year Members endorsed a report by Portuguese Member Carlos Coelho (EPP-ED) group to support a decision by EU Ministers to extend the Schengen area.

The dropping of passport restrictions for travel by land, sea and now air affects most of the countries that joined the EU four years ago. They include the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. People in Hungary, Slovenia and Malta will also be able to take advantage of the new freedoms. Despite the ending of restrictions, authorities will still have the right to ask passengers for their passports and identification.

Schengen is a small border town in Luxembourg where in 1985 five countries set out an agreement to gradually reduce border restrictions between themselves. A key part in its development has been increased cooperation between the police, judiciary and customs forces of different European states. It has also led to a common visa policy and the creation of the Schengen Information System (SIS) which holds information on travellers.

Source: European Parliament