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Enthusiastic politicians tried to played down those worries with uplifting speeches, and the European anthem, composer Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, was played at several dismantled border posts.
The removal of checkpoints means EU citizens can now drive from Estonia to Portugal, without having to show a passport. Shortly after midnight the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta joined the border-free "Schengen" Area.
The Schengen Area, named after a village in Luxembourg where the agreement to remove EU border checks was signed in 1985, now covers 24 countries and gives freedom of movement to 400 million inhabitants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom have praised the move, but people in some non EU countries were not pleased. On the border between Ukraine and Hungary the atmosphere was tense. There were long lines of rusty cars and trucks adding to the irritation of the already nervous Ukrainian border guards.
Across the bridge is the Hungarian border, which is now one of the last frontiers between non-EU nations such as Ukraine and the EU’s Schengen Area. While those in the EU almost universally welcome the development, some critics claim the agreement could increase tensions with countries outside the Schengen zone.
That’s why Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz traveled to the Ukrainian side of the border where at least 150,000 ethnic Hungarians live. Minister Goncz told BosNewsLife that she also distributed the first special permits, allowing people in border areas to travel freely across the frontiers for a distance of up to 50 kilometers, to visit relatives.
"We have been working very hard to provide in one hand more to provide a kind of security to the other Schengen zone countries," said Goncz. "It will be partly the responsibility of Hungary. And we also have been working very hard on keeping the opportunity for people to have a people-to-people contact. We have all kind of things which fit in this concept. We just provided the first travel documents."
Eduard Chuchka, a 37-year-old teacher at a local Hungarian-language school in this border region, made clear it was a first step towards a better future for people living in Ukraine and other countries that are not yet part of the Schengen Area.
"I think it is a very good idea. Hungary made a choice to join NATO and the European Union and you see it is now merging with these Western countries," said Chuchka. "I hope very much that Ukraine will be in the same situation one day and that we will be also belonging to this club."
Hungary, which is now the front line of the EU faces a difficult task. It wants to maintain good neighborly relations, but it is also under pressure to increase border security. There is concern that criminal gangs will try to take advantage of the border free zone.
Illegal border crossing into the EU by people seeking better jobs is another worry. To try to deal with those issues, there have been EU fact finding missions, and authorities have increased border security, with special cameras and other measures. (This BosNewsLife News story also airs on the Voice of America (VOA). www.voanews.com. Bos report – Download MP3 (906k) Listen to Bos report ). NEWS WATCH covers hard hitting news impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals)