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02.11.2007

Despite the fact that the enlargement of the Schengen area has been for months expected as from 31 December 2007, there is a high probability that checks at the borders of the Czech Republic with the neighbouring countries will be abolished already on 21 December 2007. The date of the termination of border checks on flights within the enlarged Schengen area at the end of March 2008 has been also specified - border checks at the international airports will come to an end probably on 30 March.

The date shifting also concerns the date when the final EU Council decision on abolition of checks at the internal borders will be taken. Due to the obligatory consultation with the European Parliament, ministers will ultimately confirm the enlargement of Schengen by 9 states, including the Czech Republic, at their meeting on 6-7 December. During their November meeting (8-9 November), ministers of the interior should confirm the completion of the Schengen evaluation and declare readiness of the new states to join the Schengen area.

The intention to enlarge the Schengen area already in the pre-Christmas time was for the first time presented by the Portuguese Presidency at the informal meeting of the Council for Justice and Home Affairs on 1 October and was encountered with a positive reaction from all present ministers or their deputies. The abolition of border checks at the internal land and sea borders before Christmas was supported also by ministers of the interior who participated in the meeting in Prague on 26 - 27 October.

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The change in the date (shifting of the date for abolition of checks at the land borders from 31 to 21 December 2007), however, did not appear in any of the official documents for some time.

A step forward in this regard was taken by the Council Working Party on the Schengen Evaluation which is in charge of carrying out the Schengen evaluation and which verifies preparedness of new states before joining the Schengen area. At its meeting on 25 - 26 October, the Working Party discussed i.a. results of the Schengen evaluation regarding the Schengen Information System (SIS) and also draft Council conclusions on the completion of the evaluation process and a draft Council decision on abolition of checks at the internal borders.

The Working Party approved the final reports from all evaluation missions which verified practical use of the SIS and also re-visits which were conducted in those areas, in which evaluation in 2006 revealed shortcomings requiring another verification of the compliance with Schengen standards on the spot. By approving these documents, the Working Party could conclude that all 9 states are prepared to fully participate in the Schengen cooperation and to abolish checks at the internal land and sea borders on 21 December 2007 and at the internal air borders on 30 March 2008.

The results of the Schengen evaluation of 9 states aiming to join Schengen on 21 December were also on the agenda of the meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) on 31 October. The Committee confirmed findings of the Working Party on the Schengen Evaluation and also declared the readiness of new states to join Schengen.

Nevertheless, the completion of the evaluation process prior to the abolition of border checks has to be officially approved by the ministers of the interior. Such conclusions will be adopted at the Council meeting on 8 November.

Despite earlier expectations, the November meeting will not take the final Council decision on abolition of checks at the internal borders. The reason for shifting this decision to the meeting on 6-7 December is an obligatory prior consultation with the European Parliament which is going to vote on its position on the Schengen enlargement on 15 November.