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Address by Commissioner Janez Potočnik at the Ceremony marking the abolition of border controls at the internal air borders of the Schengen area

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Prime Minister Janša, Minister Pereira, ambassadors, President of the Board of Ljubljana Airport Mr Skobir, distinguished guests,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address you on this important day for Slovenia and the European Union.

With the lifting of internal border controls at airports, the Schengen evaluation has now been fully completed.

As of 21 December, land and sea border controls have been abolished. Since then, we now share responsibility for maintaining an area of 24 countries without internal borders – a unique and historical accomplishment.

As of 21 December, all citizens of the enlarged Schengen area have already benefited from quicker and easier travel.  This also illustrates the benefits for all Member States of the Union of acting together within the European framework.

And as of today, the last and final obstacles have been abolished – travelling by air within the Schengen area is no longer subject to border checks.

As you may be aware, this historic achievement follows a great deal of preparation. Joining the Schengen area is not an easy undertaking. It was a challenge to strike the right balance between freedom and security, the basics rights of European citizens.

This would not have been possible without financial solidarity. The so-called Schengen Facility, providing nearly 1 billion euros, enabled the new Member States to meet, in particular, the challenge of building up effective border controls and to become full partners in the Schengen area.

Why is this so important to me personally, and why am I really so pleased today? There are at least three reasons:

First: As you probably know, I headed the negotiating team for Slovenia's accession to the European Union. Challenging, but frankly truly unforgettable times. I was responsible for the coordination of all areas, including the preparation of the Schengen border. This was without a doubt one of the most demanding tasks, covering many governmental portfolios. The coordination group established by the Government on 21 December 2000, exactly seven years before the entrance of our country into the Schengen area,  involved the Ministry of Finance; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food; Ministry of Health; Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning; Ministry of Transport and Communications; and the General Secretariat. Our meetings were regular and long. Thus the feeling that we have done a good job, one which was certainly very effectively completed by the current Government, is especially gratifying.

Second: Not many people are aware that the solidarity via the Schengen Facility in the current financial perspective is actually rooted in a decision taken during accession negotiations. The introduction was proposed by Slovenia. Among the countries joining the European Union, Slovenia was relatively the most developed. Finding a balance towards the so-called "old" Member States on one hand, and towards the group of new countries joining the Union on the other, was far from easy. The Schengen Facility was an intelligent way out. Slovenia has the longest per capita border of all the so-called "new" members. But what is certainly more important is the fact that this solidarity was then introduced for all new Member States. The decision was logical, necessary and fair.

And third, a more personal reason: The removal of land and sea border controls on 21 December was of course important, but my travel reality is very much connected to this very airport. As a frequent flyer, I really do appreciate the consequences of today's celebration.

Ladies and gentlemen, the borders are finally falling. The major change and advantage of European Union membership is not so much connected to the opening of land, sea or air borders, but rather the borders in our minds, which are also falling, slowly but steadily. The disappearance that we are witnessing today of the last physical border is certainly an important part of that crucial and decisive process.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who were part of this project for their efforts, and extend my congratulations to the Slovenian Government and to all Slovenian citizens – personally as well as in the name of the European Commission.

Enjoy the freedom! An area without internal border controls is an amazing achievement without historical precedent. Travel is now possible from the Iberian Peninsula to the Baltic States, and from Greece to Finland, by any means of transport and without border checks. This is truly symbolic for a united Europe. 

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 31.03.2008