Cablegate: Czechs Ready to Join Schengen

DE RUEHPG #0881/01 2081238
R 271238Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958:
SUBJECT: Czechs Ready to Join Schengen

1. (U) Summary: The Czech Republic is anxious and ready to
implement the Schengen Agreement on January 1, 2008. This is a high
priority political issue that unites all political parties, as
evidenced by the unanimous passage of the "Schengen Package" in
Parliament May 2007 that brought domestic legislation into
compliance with all Schengen regulations. For Czechs, Schengen is
one of the most tangible advantages of joining the EU, and without
it, Czechs believe new EU member states are treated as second class
citizens. A recent poll found that 78% of Czechs regard the
country's Schengen entry as an important gain in their EU
membership. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek believes that Schengen
entry is as momentous to Czech citizens as when Communism ended,
saying "entering the Schengen area is an important step towards full
membership in the EU." The Czech Republic has successfully
completed all interim Schengen evaluations and will face the final
hurdle - an evaluation of its operation of the Schengen Information
System (SIS) - in September 2007. The GOCR is confident it will
pass the SIS test and has unrolled plans for a US$1 million public
education campaign. However, despite intense internal preparatory
efforts, external issues over which the GOCR has little control -
resistance from Austria and mixed EU evaluations of neighboring
Schengen-candidate countries - may threaten its accession to
Schengen. End Summary.

2. (U) Czech Ministry of Interior International Relations Department
Director Blanka Rybonova informed emboffs July 26 about preparations
for the Czech Republic to join Schengen on January 1, 2008. The
Schengen Agreement, which the Czech Republic signed as part of its
accession to the EU on May 1, 2004, abolishes national borders and
standardizes border control between participating countries. Before
a country can implement the Schengen Agreement, it must meet four
criteria: (1) security of external ground borders and maritime
ports; (2) standardization in issuance and regulations of visas; (3)
operation and maintenance of the Schengen Information System (SIS),
a database of personal information used for law enforcement
purposes; (4) security of their airports. Currently, the Czech
Republic is scheduled to lift ground border checks on December 31,
2007 and airport checks on March 29, 2008.

3. (SBU) The Czech Republic has been negotiating with its neighbors
on how to handle its ground borders. Because the Czech Republic is
completely surrounded by other EU-member states (Poland, Slovakia,
Austria, and Germany), the EU never formally evaluated Czech border
security (criteria 1). However, since its neighbors Poland and
Slovakia have external borders, the EU holds Czech accession to the
Schengen area dependent on Poland and Slovakia's ability to secure
their borders. Consequently, the Czechs have been coordinating
closely with their neighbors. Austria presents another potential
monkey wrench for Czech Schengen hopes. Rybonova said that Austria,
driven by domestic political concerns, is nervous about an enlarged
Schengen, and asked all of its neighbors preparing to join Schengen
(Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia) to lift their
Austrian border control in stages. All four countries rejected this
idea. Instead, the Czech Republic is working on a bilateral
Memorandum of Understanding outlining specific measures the Czech
Republic will take to enhance security in the Austrian border area.

4. (SBU) During its initial Schengen evaluation in 2006, the Czech
Republic received poor marks for security problems at the Brno
airport. However, these problems have been fixed and the Czechs
successfully passed the July 2007 Schengen evaluation. The Czechs
face one final test: in September 2007 they will be evaluated on
their implementation of the SIS law enforcement database. Rybonova
believes the Czech Republic will pass this test as the GOCR has
everything it needs to manage this system. In anticipation of a
successful entry into the Schengen area, the GOCR has announced it
will spend CZK 25 million (over US $1 million) to educate people
about the consequences of Czech Schengen entry.

5. (SBU) As the clock ticks towards January 1, 2008, the Czech
Republic faces three vulnerabilities that may block its Schengen
accession. First, a systematic vulnerability in SIS could delay
Czech entry. In July, after the SIS's software was updated to
handle the upcoming expansion, press reported that nine current
Schengen countries (Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Norway,
Iceland, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands) failed the software's
operational test. These states are to be retested before the end of
2007 to ensure the system's functionality. However, if the updated
SIS cannot function throughout all member states, Czech entry would
be delayed until this software problem is solved. Second, Austria
may try and persuade other EU states that the new member states are
not adequately prepared for Schengen. Third, if Slovakia and Poland
fail their Schengen evaluation, Czech entry into Schengen would be
delayed until after it institutes an external border with these
countries. Accordingly to Rybonova, this last scenario is not
likely since Poland and Slovakia have made significant strides to
fulfill the Schengen evaluation criteria.

PRAGUE 00000881 002 OF 002

6. (SBU) Comment: The Czechs believe that their entrance into the
Schengen area will bring them one step closer to being full-fledged
members of the EU. As such, their criticism of the U.S. visa waiver
policy and "double standards" for old and new EU member states may
intensify; the Czechs may in turn increase pressure within the EU to
invoke the EU solidarity clause and visa reciprocity clause to
pressure the US into introducing a single visa policy for all EU
Schengen states. That said, we expect that the successful passage
of the 9/11 legislation now in Congress, which would modify the visa
waiver policy in a manner that favors the Czech Republic, will make
the Czechs less likely to press for a tougher EU stance. However,
while Czech entry into the Schengen would signify completion of
basic border security, the Czechs still have not signed the EU Prum
Convention, a new agreement to extend cross-border cooperation for
combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. The
EU has yet to decide whether to expand the Prum Convention to the
new EU member states.

© Scoop Media

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