Citizens of most of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 will be able to travel freely within the bloc by the end of the year, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Tuesday.
Passport controls could soon be a thing of the past for most Europeans
Schäuble said he expected them to meet the requirements to join the Schengen agreement covering passport-free travel and to lift border controls before 2007 draws to a close.
The most important thing was to convince people that open borders were not something dangerous, Schäuble said after a meeting with his Czech Republic counterpart Ivan Langer in Berlin.
Langer said he was convinced that security would not deteriorate after the borders were opened, pointing to improved cooperation between national police forces under the Schengen information system.
Border controls can be reimposed for special events such as the G8 summit
Fifteen countries are currently members of the Schengen accord: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
All except Norway and Iceland are European Union members.
Nine of the 10 countries that joined the EU in its "big bang" expansion in 2004 will be eligible to join at the end of the year.
They are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta.
Cyprus, the 10th country, will not be joining. Nor will Romania and Bulgaria, which became EU members this year.
Decision in September
Non-EU citizens will have to keep filling out visa applications
A decision whether the prospective newcomers fulfill the requirements to join the Schengen agreement will be made in September and formal approval given in November during Portugal's EU presidency.
The name Schengen originates from a small town in Luxembourg where seven European Union countries signed a treaty to end internal border checkpoints and controls in June 1985. More countries joined the treaty over the years.
People within the Schengen zone can travel freely from one country to another without internal border controls. Internal air, road and train travel are handled as domestic trips.