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Terror and EU force stricter controls on borders

Recent attempts to change existing border rules between Slovakia and some of its neighbours reflect intensified efforts to increase safety in the region in the post September 11 world.
Individual border controls changes, or negotiations about future changes, have indicated to foreign policy analysts that central Europe's post-communist countries are working to achieve greater security on their national borders.
However, the strengthening of border rules is not merely a response to terrorism. Vladimír Bilčík, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association think tank, said the intense activities between countries showed that aspiring European Union (EU) members were working hard on the completion of a justice and home affairs 'negotiating chapter', which is a set of legislative requirements that applicants must approve and implement in their home countries before they can enter the EU.

Recent attempts to change existing border rules between Slovakia and some of its neighbours reflect intensified efforts to increase safety in the region in the post September 11 world.

Individual border controls changes, or negotiations about future changes, have indicated to foreign policy analysts that central Europe's post-communist countries are working to achieve greater security on their national borders.

However, the strengthening of border rules is not merely a response to terrorism. Vladimír Bilčík, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association think tank, said the intense activities between countries showed that aspiring European Union (EU) members were working hard on the completion of a justice and home affairs 'negotiating chapter', which is a set of legislative requirements that applicants must approve and implement in their home countries before they can enter the EU.

This particular chapter, considered to be one of the most difficult of the total 29 EU areas, requires applicants among other things to standardise their border regimes to EU norms such as the Schengen Treaty.

The Schengen Treaty is a set of rules governing border controls between EU countries, and between the EU and the rest of the world. It became effective in 1999.

The Czech Republic's Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross, recently met his Slovak colleague Ivan Šimko to discuss standardising the special border rules between the two countries.

Bilčík thought the Czech initiative was partly influenced by the European Commission's recent regular country report, which suggested the Czech Republic should standardize policy on its eastern border with Slovakia.

This would mean toughening the border regime between the two republics, whose nationals have enjoyed relaxed rules since the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia. Citizens of both states do not need passports to cross their mutual border.

The Czech side proposed that Slovak citizens wanting to stay in the Czech Republic longer than 90 days be required to apply for a residence permit.

Šimko, backed by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, refused to discuss the measures.

"Minister Šimko's attitude was in line with the conclusion I reached after talking to [Czech prime Minister Miloš] Zeman. The question is whether we want to introduce special permits for Slovaks who stay more than 90 days, or whether we want to prevent illegal migration from third countries. I say no to the former and yes to the latter," Dzurinda said.

Noting that the Czech proposal was unexpected, as Zeman had earlier said that the border regime between Slovakia and the Czech Republic would not change, the SFPA'a Bilčík guessed that the Czechs were doing their best to complete the justice and home affairs chapter by the end of 2001.

"Their goal is still to enter the EU in 2003. Naturally, every country is negotiating for itself. It's possible the Czechs believe they could join the EU before Slovakia," he said.

Insisting that the countries should try to maintain "the existing level of border comfort for citizens of both countries," Dzurinda said he thought the best way of "fighting illegal migration is to build standard Shengen borders around the perimeter of Visegrad Four countries," includes Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.

In this respect, the almost 100 kilometres-long Slovak border with Ukraine is considered to be the most problematic. Dzurinda said that Slovakia has been increasing staff at each of its nine border crossings with Ukraine for the last two years.

The largest manpower increase came after September, said Peter Aláč, head of the border protection department at national police headquarters.

"There are 25 border police at each of the crossings, and our goal is to increase the figure to 45 by January 1, 2004 [the date of Slovakia's intended EU entry]," Aláč said.

Cash checks at borders

In what Bilčík thought was an "attempt by countries to prevent potential economic migrants from entering," several states including Slovakia have recently discussed or approved new measures requiring travellers to have a set amount of currency on them when crossing the border.

The consular department ofthe Slovak embassy in Hungary told The Slovak Spectator December 5 that Hungarian border officers are now entitled to turn away Slovaks entering the country who do not have a minimum of 15,000 Hungarian forints ($50) for a stay under three days, and $17 for each additional day.

The Slovak parliament is to discuss a similar measure as part of law on the residence of foreigners, set to take effect April 4, 2002 . The amendment proposes to increase the minimum required available cash for visitors to Slovakia from today's $15 per person to $50.

"These measures are standard ones, and every country has the right to set their own limits. This doesn't mean that all visitors will be asked to show their cash, simply that officers have the right to question visitors about their cash at random," said Vladimír Urban of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

He added that similar measures existed in Austria, and Poland.

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