Borders Open From Lisbon to Estonia

PETRZALKA, Slovakia -- Austria's chancellor and Slovakia's prime minister sawed through a red and white frontier barrier Thursday in symbolic preparation for nine new countries joining the EU's border-free zone at midnight.

Austria's Alfred Gusenbauer and Slovakia's Robert Fico stood either side of the pole on their common frontier working a double-handled saw, heralding what many see as a final lifting of the Iron Curtain between the former Soviet bloc and the West.

On Friday, the Schengen zone, within which people can travel without showing passports, extends to a group of mostly East European states: Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta and the Czech Republic.

The move will boost business and tourism, but some in Western Europe fear the enlarged zone will increase crime or that the EU's new external borders will be less secure.

Fico and Gusenbauer acknowledged such worries existed, but dismissed them. "What is Schengen? It is not criminality, it is not uncertainty, it is not fear, it is a big space of security and stability," Gusenbauer told a thinly attended ceremony at this crossing near the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

Fico said the opening of borders, which officially came into effect a minute after midnight, meant people would be able to travel more than 4,000 kilometers from Tallinn, Estonia, to Lisbon, Portugal, without showing a passport.

The entry of eight East European countries and Malta to the Schengen zone, named after a Luxembourg village where a first agreement on passport-free travel was struck in 1985, will mean it covers 24 countries. It will include an area about a third the size of the United States and home to 400 million people. It will first cover land and sea borders and be extended to airports from March.