Schengen celebrations continue at open borders
European leaders continue to celebrate the expansion of the so-called Schengen zone, in which internal borders are scrapped, to introduce nine new states.
21st December 2007
Prague (dpa) - European leaders continue to celebrate the expansion of the so-called Schengen zone, in which internal borders are scrapped, to introduce nine new states.
Swarmed by television crews, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk sawed through yet another symbolic red toll gate at Hradek nad Nisou border crossing in an area where the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany meet.
"I remember when we chopped wires in 1989, when I first made it to Vienna's Mariahilfer Strasse and bought a deep fryer," the Czech premier said, referring to the tearing down of the barbed-wired Iron Curtain after European communism fell in 1989.
"We have today finished a process, which began with cutting wires," he said. "We have become equal by entering the Schengen area."
The premiers were joined at the ceremony by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
On Friday morning, five schoolchildren from Konecna, an eastern Czech hamlet that found itself behind a border checkpoint between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1994, went to school for the first time without flashing their passports.
"People here are really happy," Tomas Vecera, the mayor of the village of Bila that administers the hamlet, told Deutsche Presse- Agentur (DPA).
"When they wanted to bring home a fridge, coal or even a sack of grain, they had to declare it," he said speaking by telephone from Friday's festivities, which the village held at the despised border checkpoint.
At midnight, Czechs, Poles and Slovaks welcomed the end of border controls with fireworks and music at several, now already former, border crossings.
In the town of Cesky Tesin, in the Czech Republic's north-east, divided by a border from its Polish part in 1920, locals crammed the border bridge, where the two towns now plan to revive a cafe.
Before border patrols had finished their final shift across Central Europe, people rushed to get their passports stamped for one last time.
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak was rubber-stamping passports himself during celebrations at the Slovak-Austrian Petrzalka/Berg crossing on the outskirts of the Slovak capital Bratislava, public broadcaster Czech Television reported.
But there was not much to celebrate Friday on the newly-fortified external borders of the expanded borderless area named after the Luxembourg village of Schengen.
Trucks formed a long queue through villages leading to the Vysne Nemecke/Uzhorod border crossing from Slovakia to Ukraine, TA3 news channel said.
In his speech Friday, Topolanek wished that those left outside the passport-free zone would also one day experience such a festive day.