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Malta takes another giant step for European integration

Malta's maritime border with mainland Europe came down today as the Island took another giant step in the process of integration with Europe by becoming a member of the Schengen passport-free area.

Membership of the Schengen area comes just 11 days before another giant step when Malta adopts the European currency.

As from today passengers travelling by sea between Malta and Schengen area countries will not undergo the usual passport checks.

Malta is one of nine EU member states to start lifting their sea, land and air borders tomorrow. In Malta's case the process will be completed in March when the air borders are removed.

The removal of borders was to have taken place on New Year's Day but the EU moved it forward to benefit those crossing from one country to the other for their Christmas holidays. Special celebrations are being held on the historically troubled border between Poland and Germany, which now no longer exists for the travelling public.

The new members of the Schengen area with Malta are Estonia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. They join join Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the two associated countries Norway and Iceland. The UK and Ireland do not form part of Schengen.

Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg expressed his satisfaction that after three years of hard work, Malta had arrived to this historic milestone.

"Joining Schengen makes us more European. We as Maltese citizens are now on the same playing field as our European counterparts," a satisfied Dr Borg said.

Malta's preparations included the building of a new airport wing to better manage the flow of passengers, new visa issuing arrangements in Malta's consular offices abroad and the setting up within the police force of a new unit, called 'Sirene' responsible for the administration of the Schengen Information System , an EU-wide IT data system.

Visas issued by Maltese embassies and offices will now be valid in all Schengen countries.

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