It was a decision that the Czech Republic and eight other EU newcomers had long been pushing for. The enlargement of the Schengen border free zone to nine of the ten states which joined the EU in 2004 on December 31 2007 will mean an end to border checks and airport controls and will finally give their citizens complete freedom of movement within the European Union.
For months now the Czech Republic and eight other EU newcomers had been battling against a proposed one-year delay of Schengen's expansion. Tuesday's compromise solution was seen as "a historic decision" by the Czech negotiating team in Brussels. Interior Minister Ivan Langer had this to say:
"Europe will no longer be divided into two categories of states, two categories of people. The citizens of the Czech Republic will share not only the duties but also the rights and freedoms of EU membership - and the right to travel freely is a fundamental EU freedom."
The Czech Republic's inclusion in the Schengen border free zone will bring many benefits -among them better conditions for Czech businesses whose trucks now spend hours stranded at various border checkpoints and no congestion of traffic for passenger cars. It will also mean that Czech border guards can now be deployed elsewhere, filling other posts and saving taxpayers money. But, first and foremost, it will benefit Czech citizens who will finally be able to get the full benefits of free travel within the EU. Political analyst Jiri Pehe:
"People in the Czech Republic will be able to really move freely across borders without having to stop anywhere and submit to border checks. And I think it is also symbolic because seventeen years ago the Czech Republic was one of the most oppressive countries in the world, surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire, and in 2008 it will be one of two countries in the European Union which will have no external borders to guard because it is surrounded by EU members and has no coastline - so symbolically this will be a huge change in comparison with 1989."
So how do Czechs themselves feel about the prospect of traveling freely within the EU? When I spoke to people in the streets of Prague earlier today I found that most of them had heard the news and welcomed it.
Middle-aged man: "I was glad to hear it - despite the three months delay - this is finally something positive for us. We travel abroad quite often on business and it will be a relief not have to spend time at every crossing"
Middle-aged woman: "Yes, I traveled to Italy when they had lifted border controls with Austria and it was a very pleasant experience."
Middle-aged man: "I will be very pleased when it comes about. I own a travel agency and this will make things so much easier for our clients - it will make things easier for everyone."
Young woman: "It will be an improvement for all law-abiding citizens. On the other hand I am a little worried about criminals and such - it will mean a greater risk because it will leave the country more open and vulnerable."
Young woman: "Of course it is an improvement. It is another step on
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