Estonia Celebrates Schengen Zone Expansion
On December 21st, 'the Schengen Zone' - that brave, borderless band of European nations - was officially expanded to incorporate almost all of Central Eastern Europe, including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta in its "let 'em all in" lovefest. With the new rules, citizens in the 30 country Schengen Zone can now travel all the way from Lisbon, Portugal (current possessor of the EU Presidency before it shifts to Ljubljana, Slovenia January 1st) to Tallinn, Estonia without repeatedly producing documents for officials, waiting in queues at various borders, having their carloads of contraband confiscated, or having to answer a lot of pesky questions when needing to flee any country on Continental Europe between the Atlantic Ocean and the Balkans (except Switzerland - bloody isolationists). 'Your secret's safe in Schengen' goes the looking-the-other-way tagline we've just invented for the Agreement.
The official celebration of Schengen expansion took place in Tallinn, where an official EU delegation headed by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barrosso and Portugal Prime Minister Jose Socrates took part in the celebration. The Finnish, Latvian and Lithuanian prime ministers were also on-hand for the round of high-fives. An hour before midnight on the 20th, projectors illuminated the oh-so symbolic Schengen Sea Gates, welcoming incoming vessels into tiny Estonia with no questions asked. A border guard orchestra conducted the first arriving vessel into the dock with a rousing version of the Scorpions' hit, "Wind of Change" as the former frontier fell. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves personally greeted the passengers of the Viking Line ferry, Rosella - doing it's daily rounds from Helsinki - as if it were the luckiest day in the history of Finnish tourism. "Please, traffic all the illegal and prescription drugs you can fit in your bags back to Finland!" he was quoted as not having said.
Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip declared the expansion of the Schengen Zone as the most important event for Estonia this year (having absent-mindedly forgotten the world's first online parliamentary election held in the country earlier in the year, and that messy 'Bronze Soldier' debacle which sank Estonia's relations with Russia and cost the government an estimated 70 million kroons), announcing that it meant the realisation of one of the main freedoms freedom of movement.
Tourists disembarking the ferry were forced to wait in queues and provide their documents to mocking border officials until the stroke of midnight when the guards left their stations and the remaining throng was admitted en masse. First through was wunderkind Juliana Kravets, a 13-year-old Tallinn resident. "I want to travel a lot during my life. I'm happy Schengen came into force," Kravets told the AFP as a talented ventriloquist unassumingly stood nearby. Kravets was given a pat on the head, a gingerbread cookie and a purple balloon (this is true). The ventriloquist was slipped a 100 kroon note and a small, unmarked packet of pills as fireworks erupted over the Tallinn seaport.