Baltics plugged into Schengen system

  • 2007-09-06
  • From wire reports
BRUSSELS - Nine new EU member states, including the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are now connected to a massive European police database, fulfilling a key condition for them to join the Schengen border-free are.

Nine of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 "have been connected to the Schengen Information System (SIS) since Sept. 1," said European Commission justice spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.

The database currently contains some 17 million pieces of information and guides police officers on what action to take against people they may be questioning whose details appear on it.

The 15 nations already signed up to the Schengen Treaty - the 15 oldest EU members minus Britain and Ireland plus non-EU nations Norway and Iceland - are due to decide in November whether to start opening internal borders with the nine newcomers.

Land borders would be opened on Dec. 31 this year, with airports joining the zone from the end of March 2008.

Apart from hooking up to the SIS database, the nine countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- must also be deemed to have secure external borders.

Roscam Abbing said that, given the number of visits to the nine by EU border experts, the Commission "is not worried" about the state of their external border security.

Cyprus will not yet join the Schengen group while Switzerland, which is surrounded by EU countries but is not a member, is scheduled to sign up later.