EU will not enlarge border-free zone before 2005


The European Union said today it would enlarge its border-free Schengen zone to include new member states but that was unlikely to happen before 2005 because sharing law enforcement information had to be updated.

Many candidates for EU membership currently serve as transit points for drugs and sex workers smuggled into the bloc.

Countries such as Poland will be expected to beef up border patrols with neighbouring Ukraine and Belarus before they can join Schengen, which is set up in 1985 to remove internal border controls.

"With the system we have today, it is not possible to actually (enlarge) Schengen," said Justice Minister Lene Espersen of Denmark, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

She told a news conference the EU needed to update the so-called Schengen Information System, a database for sharing information between law inforcement bodies and that this would not be done before 2005.

"(But) you would be very optimistic if you think any of the candidate countries will be ready before," she said. Espersen also said getting EU member states Ireland and Britain, the only current members outside the Schengen area, to join was a priority before enlarging the area.

The arrangements have irritated some candidates who feel they will have to pay the costs of Schengen without reaping the benefits of free movement.

"We need to be absolutely 100 percent sure that (border controls) are working before they join," she said.