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SLOVAKIA'S EASTERN BORDER IS TO BE THE GATEWAY TO THE SCHENGEN ZONE

All quiet on the eastern front

SLOVAKIA has met all but 13 of the 189 conditions for entering the Schengen zone that would guarantee it one of the main advantages of the European Union: The free movement of its citizens across the borders of other member countries.

SLOVAKIA has met all but 13 of the 189 conditions for entering the Schengen zone that would guarantee it one of the main advantages of the European Union: The free movement of its citizens across the borders of other member countries.

Last year, the European Council of Ministers of Interior and Justice set January 1, 2008 as the date for the nine new EU member states, including Slovakia, to enter the Schengen zone. Based on the European Commission's monitoring conducted in June, the main goals that Slovakia still has to accomplish are to improve the information systems on its border with Ukraine, open diplomatic representations in Belgrade and Kiev and refine its visa policies towards countries outside of the European Union. When Slovakia enters the Schengen area, Ukraine will become the eastern border of the European Union's Schengen zone.

"We are concentrating all our efforts to be ready [to enter Schengen] by this date," Vladimíra Hrebeňáková of the Interior Minister's office told The Slovak Spectator. "The monitoring commission appeared satisfied, but we must wait for the official results."

The criteria were demanding, but possible to meet, Hrebeňáková said, adding that the country has already built and reconstructed many facilities in order to comply with the criteria, including the border police stations in Ulič, Ubľa, Podhoroď, Maťovské Vojkovce, Veľké Slemence, Petrovce and Čierna nad Tisou.

According to Hrebeňáková, a headquarters facility for the border police, known informally as "the heart of Schengen" opened on May 11, 2007 in Sobrance.

Radical changes have been made to the way personal transport will be handled. Since two-lane roads did not meet standards, five-lane crossings have been built at entry points, where travelers are divided into Schengen and non-Schengen residents.

The new five-lane crossings should drastically cut waiting times at the border, the Interior Ministry said.

The electronic visual security systems should be finished in September, said Hrebeňáková, while the EC monitoring commission has already audited the pilot parts of the project that connect Vyšné Slemence with the Sobrance headquarters.

Hiring has already begun and Slovakia expects to meet the deadline for adding 886 new police on the eastern border by the January 1, 2008, deadline.

All policemen will be trained to handle the camera equipment and the Schengen information systems, and will eventually all attend language courses.

Slovakia was granted €52 million from the Schengen Transition Fund and €5 million from the PHARE fund. The Interior Ministry's share of the funds came to more than €45 million, Hrebeňáková said.

During the summit of Visegrad Four (V4) prime ministers in Bratislava this month, Robert Fico said that there is no doubt that the V4 countries would enter the Schengen area on schedule in January 2008. Fico was reacting to Austrian attempts to delay their entry for at least four months.

"Any attempts on the part of other countries to stop the plan are unacceptable," Fico said at the press conference.

The Schengen Treaty was signed on June 14, 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg. The free movement of EU citizens across member states has remained one of the European Union's key goals ever since.

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