BELGRADE, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Portugal symbolically handed over the EU presidency to Slovenia on Saturday, as Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates gave Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa an astrolabe, said reports reaching here from Slovenia.
Socrates said with the seafaring navigation instrument, Slovenia could "successfully steer the EU ship" when it officially assumes the rotating EU presidency on Jan. 1, the Slovenian national news agency STA reported.
The symbolical handing over took place at a celebration at the Skofije/Rabuiese border crossing between Slovenia and Italy of the expansion of the Schengen no-border zone to nine EU countries, including Slovenia.
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, the eurozone and the Schengen zone, will assume the leadership of the 27-nation, 490-million-people European Union during the first half of 2008.
Jansa thanked Socrates and praised the excellent cooperation of the EU presiding trio of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.
He said Germany as well as Portugal had proven they are capable of strategic steps, the former with the content of the Lisbon Treaty and the latter with the successful inter-governmental conference and the signing of the document.
According to Jansa, Slovenia will continue down the same path, doing its utmost to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified where this is possible in the first half of 2008.
Moreover, it would "harness the optimism created by the Schengen zone expansion" for steps that improve the lives of European citizens, said Jansa.