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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 22:21 GMT 23:21 UK
Troubled Nordic entry to Schengen zone
Border crossing
Once inside the zone traffic is able to move freely, without hindrance
By Julian Isherwood in Copenhagen

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway have finally joined the world's largest passport-free zone, but Europe's foot-and-mouth epidemic is placing heavy restrictions on its implementation.

With foot-and-mouth disease having been confirmed in France and the Netherlands, as well as Britain, Norway in particular has put its border officers on high alert, to prevent the spread of the disease into the country.

The other Nordic countries have also increased spot checks on entries into the region - irrespective of their new borderless status - in an attempt to contain foot and mouth.

Dutch border police checking a truck
Spot checks are being carried out amid foot-and-mouth fears
The foot-and-mouth epidemic has come as a welcome boost to the "I-told-you-so's" in the region who had demanded the countries remained firmly outside the passport-free area.

Adoption of the Schengen agreement within the Nordic region has been highly controversial, with anti-EU organisations in particular sounding the warning drum that illegal immigrants would overrun the relatively homogenous countries of the north.

New airport areas

In the event, spot checks carried out by local police on vehicles and persons crossing land borders during the week following the new agreement, turned up the same number of illegal immigrants as when border posts were functioning.

Under Schengen, which is named after the Luxembourgeois town at which agreement was reached, travellers from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and now the five Nordic countries, can now pass freely across land frontiers.

New areas at airports bring aircraft into special piers, allowing travellers from within the Schengen area to pass through passport control areas without hindrance.

Arrivals, however, from other destinations - both at airports and ports - are subject to closer scrutiny than previously in order to prevent the entrance of illegal immigrants to the 15-country region.

Increased border patrols

Once in, there are no longer any hindrances to the free movement of traffic.

Customs officer stamping a passport
Nordic nationals will no longer have to show their passports

Someone arriving by aircraft, for example, at Norway's northernmost arctic international airport at Kirkenes would be able to drive to the southern tip of Sicily, meandering through 10 countries without being stopped or showing a passport.

In order to prevent entry into the Schengen area of illegal immigrants from Russia and the Baltic countries, Norway and Finland have been given the job of increasing border patrols along their common border with Russia.

Emotional issue

The removal of border posts was not without emotion, particularly on the land border in Jutland between Denmark and Germany where national sentiment runs high.

But despite both pro-EU and anti-EU demonstrations at passport control posts, customs and police officers switched off their lights and computers at midnight last Sunday to the sound of champagne corks.

The five Nordic countries have had a passport union since 1954 under which nationals from any of the countries have free movement between them.

Foreign nationals, however, have had to present passports at border points.

Proof of address

Although Nordic nationals will not now have to show their passports as they travel between Schengen countries, they will probably have to carry them.

Under the Schengen agreement, nationals must carry with them proof of identity and address.

Since Nordic ID cards do not have addresses printed on them, passports will be necessary on request and when staying at hotels in the bloc, as proof of identity.

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | Euro-glossary
Schengen agreement
09 Dec 98 | Schengen
Background to Schengen Agreement
28 Jan 98 | Schengen
A traveller's guide to Schengen
19 Jun 00 | Europe
Trafficking: A human tragedy
30 Mar 01 | Europe
Foot-and-mouth in Europe
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