Expatica news

Switzerland ends land border controls

ZURZACH – Switzerland’s land borders opened up Friday with its membership in the European border-free Schengen zone.

Passport checks are now eliminated for all travellers entering the country by road, but air passengers will have to wait until 29 March 2009 before they can benefit from the new rules.

The Schengen agreement, named after the town in Luxembourg where it was signed in 1985, now allows for passport-free travel between 25 countries after Swiss citizens voted in favour of joining the Schengen area in a 2005 vote.

At the exit of northern Switzerland’s Zurzach forest bordering Germany, a Swiss patrol team prepared for the change ahead of the transition at midnight.

One of the guards, Corporal Heinz Meister, said he was stopping vehicles only to ask about any goods being carried and not checking identity papers.

Hans Arzethauser, a spokesperson for the border security force, said the move would allow Switzerland to access the EU’s electronic information system for information about criminals.

"Previously, Switzerland was considered as an island" by the criminals, he said, adding, "This new system gives us one more security tool and helps us to identify wanted people, stolen vehicles and asylum seekers."

With the Schengen agreement, Bern also joins a Dublin cooperation which requires a state member to prevent asylum-seekers from claiming asylum in more than one of the  countries simultaneously.

"Our work has become a lot more interesting as we can also cooperate with foreign police and we can be more flexible in our work," said Martial Benz, a customs officer.

On 29 March, airport checks will end in Switzerland but a popular vote to be held in February over free movement could complicate the deal.

The EU in November warned Switzerland that its future in Europe’s no-borders zone could be compromised if its citizens vote against applying the free circulation principle to new EU member states Bulgaria and Romania.

[AFP / Andre Lehmann / Expatica]