IN SHORT

Passports unnecessary for EU travel

SLOVAKS will be able to travel without passports to EU member countries, using only their citizen's identification cards, Slovak Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said.

Palko said that Slovakia is ready to let in all EU citizens holding identification cards, the TASR news wire reported.

"Reciprocally, our citizens will enjoy the same right when entering the other member countries," said Palko, who attended the talks of EU ministers in Brussels on February 19.

Although France raised several objections, Palko believes the issue will be settled by May 1, the date of the EU's greatest enlargement thus far.

Slovakia does not automatically become a member of the Schengen territory after joining the EU. For instance, people crossing the Slovak-Austrian border will be checked for identification until the new Schengen Information System (SIS II) is introduced.

Brussels expects the system to be up and running by the end of 2006, which means that Slovakia could enter the Schengen area as of January 1, 2007. Another Schengen condition is the strengthened protection of the EU's external borders - in Slovakia's case, the border with Ukraine. Palko said a full complement of 459 police officers is ready to begin operation there from May 1.

He criticised the EU for its late distribution of money from the Schengen transition fund. The €47.8 million allocated to Slovakia through the fund should be available in May.

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