The Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer (L) symbolically cuts a bar with his Slovak counterpart Robert Kalinak in Stary Hrozenkov, Czech, on the eve of the two countries accession to the Schengen area, Dec. 20, 2007. All nine new EU members, including the Czech Republic, are ready to introduce the Schengen system at their land borders by Dec. 21 and international airports by the end of next March. (Xinhua Photo)
ZITTAU, Germany, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Nine European Union (EU) new member states on Friday joined the passport-free Schengen Area.
The nine countries are Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They all joined the EU on May 1, 2004 in the "big bang" of the EU enlargement.
Their entry marked the biggest ever enlargement of the Schengen zone, expanding the Schengen zone from 15 countries to 24.
Starting from 0:00 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT, Thursday), the nine states officially open their land and sea border to the Schengen Area, and people do not have to show their passports when going through the border crossings.
At around 9:00 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), a symbolic opening-border ceremony was held at a border crossing near the German town of Zittau, which borders Poland and the Czech Republic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek attended the ceremony at the border crossing "Zittau peace road-Porajow."
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country is holding the EU presidency, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering also witnessed the opening of the border.
After 9:00 a.m. local time, a German police officer and a Polish police officer lifted the border bar that divided the two countries, symbolizing the opening of the border.
The Schengen Agreement, signed on June 14, 1985, is an agreement which allows for the abolition of systematic border controls between the participating countries.
However, it was not until March 26, 1995 that the agreement was put into practice.
By far, all EU states except Britain and Ireland and three non-EU members (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) have signed the agreement. Among them, only 24 countries have so far put the pact into implementation.
Backgrounder: Schengen Agreement