Czechs to close border if Slovakia late for Schengen

THE CZECH Ambassador to the European Union, Jan Kohout, shocked his Slovak colleagues yesterday by saying that if Slovakia failed to meet a deadline at the end of 2007 for introducing new border controls under the EU’s Schengen passport-free area, “we are politically prepared to introduce controls on the Czech-Slovak border”.

Slovak EU Ambassador Maroš Ševčovič said it was the first time he had heard of the idea. “This would be such a sensitive step that it would have to be agreed by the political leadership of both countries,” he said. “It would be very unpopular with the public.”

According to the Sme daily, Slovakia is the worst prepared of any of the 10 newest EU members for the extension of the borderless Schengen area to its outer frontier with Ukraine. According to documents cited by the newspaper, Slovakia does not yet fulfill any of the six conditions for enlarging Schengen, including border control, protection of personal data, land borders, air borders, police cooperation and visas.

Slovakia must above all secure its eastern border, reorganize its border and aliens police corps, educate its police force and make improvements at Bratislava and Košice airports.

However, according to Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, the country will be ready for Schengen in December 2007. “It’s up to us above all to disperse any doubts,” he said. “A few weeks ago we identified some shortcomings in our own audit, but these are not insuperable.”

The Schengen issue is particularly important to the Czech Republic, and it is also expected to have a major impact on the visa policy of the United States towards nationals from the region.

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