BRUSSELS, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Vice President Franco Frattini on Thursday hailed the enlargement of the Schengen area to 24 countries as from Friday.
The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia are to open their land and sea borders on Friday to the 15 countries that already belong to the Schengen area.
The nine countries joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. Cyprus, which also joined the EU in 2004, has asked for a year's delay before opening its borders.
Controls at airports of the nine countries will be removed on March 30, 2008.
"I wish to congratulate the nine new Schengen members, the Portuguese (EU) presidency and all EU member states for their efforts. Together, we have overcome border controls as man-made obstacles to peace, freedom and unity in Europe, while creating the conditions for increased security," said Barroso.
Frattini, who is responsible for freedom, justice, and security affairs, hailed the enlargement of the Schengen area as an historic achievement.
"An area of 24 countries without internal borders is a unique and historic achievement...I give enormous credit to these member states -- all the new member countries, who have put in place significant, state-of- the-art border security systems," said Frattini.
Following the enlargement of the Schengen area, all citizens of the 24 countries can travel without border checks.
Third country nationals can also benefit from the enlargement as they can travel to more countries with one single "Schengen visa."
The Schengen agreement was signed by Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1985 to enable people to travel freely within its member states.
Since then, they have been joined by Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, as well as non-EU nations Norway and Iceland.