BELGRADE, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- EU, Portuguese, Italian and Slovenian dignitaries took part in the final celebration at Slovenia's Skofije/Rabuiese border crossing with Italy on Saturday to welcome nine mainly eastern European countries into the border-free Schengen zone.
The last of the five big EU-endorsed celebrations held across the bloc featured among others European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates as the current EU president, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa and Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, the Slovenian national news agency STA reported.
"This is something that we did not even dare dream of 15 years ago," Jansa said. "It is a historical day, only in the future will it truly be grasped."
Jansa said that the falling of the border signaled the arrival of a new era for the Italian and Slovenian minorities in the respective countries.
"Borders between them and their motherland no longer exist. This creates opportunities that we can use for the common good."
Barroso said the dismantling of borders sent a "very powerful signal of unity" of Europe around values such as freedom, democracy and peace.
What is more, the elimination of borders is a tangible benefit for the people. "I firmly believe that if we want to have a stronger Europe we need to show our people that Europe brings concrete results, not just words," said Barroso.
Playing down fears that the new Schengen members will not be able to guarantee security, Barroso said that the European Union had earmarked a billion euros (some 1.46 billion U.S. dollars) to beef up security on the new Schengen borders.
At midnight on Friday, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the15 countries already in the border-free zone. A total of 400 million people from 24 countries are now able to move freely throughout Europe.
Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav state to join the European Union and the eurozone, will now control 760 kilometers of the Schengen border.
Skofije was chosen as one of five places for EU celebrations of Schengen zone expansion along with the Zitava/Zittau checkpoint on the German-Polish-Czech border, the port of the Estonian capital Tallinn, the Berg crossing between Slovakia and Austria and the Hegyeshalom crossing between Austria and Hungary.