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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Schengen Zone to Expand Eastward

BRUSSELS -- Citizens from nine new EU members, most in Eastern Europe, will be able to travel passport-free to most other countries in the bloc as of Dec. 21, after EU justice and interior ministers on Thursday endorsed landmark plans to lift border checks.

The decision follows through on a longstanding commitment to the nine EU countries that joined in 2004 that their citizens be allowed to take up full EU rights of free movement across the union without having to show identity papers at national border crossings.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaueble said the decision also fulfilled the dream of establishing a united Europe after the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain.

"It is of great importance to the new member states that the Iron Curtain is gone and that controls are abolished," Schaueble said before the EU ministers talks.

EU officials said the opening of the borders with the nine countries -- Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Malta -- would be marked with ceremonies at various old border crossings one minute after midnight on Dec. 21.