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EU approves Swiss membership of Schengen

The European Union has given the green light for Switzerland to join the border-free Schengen Area covering 27 countries on the continent.

As of December 12 systematic checks on individuals will be abolished and cooperation will be increased in the fight against cross-border crime.

EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels unanimously approved the treaty with Switzerland on Thursday, according to the EU presidency.

While terrestrial borders will no longer have passport control points, goods traffic will still be subject to regular customs searches.

Checks at airports in Switzerland - which is not a EU member - are likely to be lifted next March.

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the accord could help boost tourism and improve procedures in dealing with asylum seekers from other Schengen states.

Police would also be better equipped to track cross-border criminals by using the Schengen Information System, a data bank used by many European countries with information on wanted persons and stolen goods.

She rejected claims the Schengen arrangement would have a negative effect on Swiss security.

The European Commission vice-president, Jacques Barrot, warned the treaty would face a major hurdle in February when a Swiss referendum takes place on a bilateral labour accord. A no vote would "probably lead to a rupture in Switzerland's participation in the Schengen Area", he said.

In 2005 Swiss voters approved membership of the Schengen Area in a nationwide ballot.


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