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Minister Hails Schengen Expansion, Police Remain Sceptical

One hundred days after the expansion of the Schengen zone, Germany's interior minister praised the success of the border-free project. His views are at odds with the police who say crime has risen.

German police and the German-Polish border

Border controls and passport checks are a thing of the past throughout Europe

Break-ins and thefts have risen considerably in Germany's border regions since the passport-free Schengen area added nine new central and eastern European members on Dec. 21, 2007, Klaus Jansen, chairmen of the Federation of German Detectives, told Deutschlandfunk public radio on Tuesday, April 1.

Jansen criticized German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for not adequately preparing police for the move. Promised reinforcements haven't yet been made available and the interior ministry failed to provide police with appropriate training and mobile tracing equipment, he said.

Mobile patrols in the border regions replaced stationary border checks after the expansion.

Minister says no reason to worry

Celebration on the eve of the Schengen expansion

Poles and Germans celebrated on the eve of the Schengen expansion

Schaeuble, however, said on Tuesday in the Saxon city of Zittau that "the concerns of the people in the border regions have not proven true." The interior minister had been a major proponent of opening the Schengen area late last year, a move that critics said was premature and could lead to increased crime rates in Germany.

Schaeuble's Czech and Polish counterparts echoed his sentiments.

"The feared scenarios haven't occurred," said Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer. Poland's State Secretary Witold Drodz called police cooperation between the three countries "exemplary."

Since the border posts on the German-Polish and German-Czech borders were symbolically removed just before Christmas last year, 1,128 people have been detained for illegal entry into Germany. 713 of these have already been deported back to their home countries.

Schaeuble said the number of illegal entry attempts was particularly high in December and January, but has sunk dramatically since then.

Matthias Seeger, who heads the federal police district responsible for guarding the border to Poland, said the visible presence of the federal police in the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border region continued to ensure greater security for the people there.

Borders dismantled in new Schengen countries

German and Czech border police

Border controls such as these have been dismantled in new Schengen members

On Sunday, passport controls in airports were lifted in the nine new member countries -- Estonia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The abolishment of the air borders had been postponed to coincide with the airlines' bi-yearly flight schedule changes.

"It all went very smoothly," said Friso Roscam Abbing, spokesman for the EU's justice, freedom and security commission.

The Schengen area is now made up of 22 EU countries plus Norway and Iceland. Non-EU members Switzerland and Liechtenstein plan to join the group by the end of 2008.

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