March 31st, 2008 02:51 EST
Border Passport Checks Nixed in Europe's Airports
By Stefan Bos
Starting Sunday, citizens of Europe's 24-country "Schengen zone" are no longer required to undergo passport checks at airports in Malta and eight other European Union countries that joined the EU in 2004. Among them are ex-communist Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The Schengen zone takes its name from a village in Luxembourg where five founder-member governments agreed in 1985 to abolish border controls. It is now comprised of 22 EU member states plus non-EU nations, Iceland and Norway.
Land and maritime border controls had already been abolished among all the EU member countries, allowing Europeans to travel from Norway to Portugal without a single border check.
European Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot suggests the removal of airport controls will revolutionize air travel for some 400 million people.
He says, "The enlargement of the Schengen area to 24 states will mean that passengers within that zone can now freely travel without submitting to any kind of formality." He admits airlines will continue their identity checks at borders and says controls will be maintained for any flight regardless to destination because of security reasons. But, he says, the move is a symbol of change as "the free movement of persons represents one of the pillars of Europe's Schengen treaty."
Still, there was mixed reaction from European passengers arriving at the airport in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Irena Groselj arriving from Vienna: "It was much easier than last time and faster. When I went through the passport control, there was no control, actually."
Tomaz Pavlin traveling abroad: "For the passport control it will be easier, for sure. But on the other hand, for the security it will be tighter."
Airports of Budapest, Tallinn, Warsaw and Prague had to build new terminals to physically separate passengers from the control-free countries and from other places, including the United States.