BUDAPEST, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Senior EU officials, leaders of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia inaugurated Saturday a memorial column marking the enlargement of the Schengen area at Hegyeshalom, Hungary's main border crossing to Austria, teh Hungarian news agency MTI reported.
The dismantling of the border barriers reflects growing confidence between peoples, said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso while addressing the event. He congratulated Hungary and Slovakia on their accession to the Schengen zone.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country is currently holding the rotating EU presidency, called it an honour for his country to contribute to this historic event. "We are celebrating European citizenship today," he said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said freedom entails a shared responsibility for protecting the values of democracy and human dignity. "We have prepared for protecting and strengthening Europe as proud Hungarians," he said.
Gyurcsany said the no man's land, which used to separate countries and nations has now become the land of democracy and common European freedom, which connects rather than separates nations.
Austrian Interior Minister Guenther Platter said that European division had become a thing of the past.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico called the end of border control and the enlargement of the Schengen zone a special Christmas gift.
Nine countries abolished land and sea border controls Thursday midnight, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The enlarged Schengen area, named after the town in Luxembourg where the free-movement scheme was first signed, will now accommodate a total of 24 countries -- all European Union countries except for Iceland and Norway.