Poland Plans Fast-Track Visas For Euro 2012

WARSAW, Poland -- The Polish government on Thursday announced plans to offer fast-track visas to smooth movement across its borders when it hosts football's 2012 European Championship along with neighbouring Ukraine.

Euro 2012 kicks off in Warsaw on June 8 that year and ends with the final on July 1 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

"We expect to facilitate visas for people taking part in the tournament: players, referees, doctors, activists, members of UEFA and FIFA and others preparing for the event," Jan Borkowski, Poland's deputy foreign minister, told parliament.

Fans will not be left out, he noted.

"The plan is that an original, valid match ticket will be the basis for granting a visa," he explained.

Borkowski said that Warsaw also planned to bolster its diplomatic corps in Ukraine to cope with the expected surge in demand for cross-border travel, notably in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Euro 2012 kicks off in Warsaw on June 8 next year and ends with the final on July 1 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

It marks the first edition of the 16-nation showcase to be held behind the former Iron Curtain.

But Poland and Ukraine now lie either side of a new divide: the tightly-controlled eastern rim of the European Union.

Poland joined the EU in 2004, but Ukraine is trying to seal an association agreement, the first stepping stone to membership.

EU authorities are preparing to help Poland handle the extra travellers expected to criss-cross the border.

"We have made very good progress in planning the Euro 2012 joint operation," Ilkka Laitinen, the Finn who heads Warsaw-based EU border agency Frontex, told AFP.

"This is not the first time that we're confronted with a massive-scale sport event," he added.

He noted that six-year-old Frontex cut its teeth on major sporting events such as the Turin Olympics in Italy in 2006, the World Cup in Germany the same year, and Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

"The challenge this time, which is very interesting, is that there happens to be the external border between the hosts," Laitinen said.

"We have to ensure on one hand that this is not a barrier for arranging in an effective way this wonderful event, but on the other hand to take care that all the security threats we might have can be confronted," he explained.

Poland's border controls with Ukraine were further beefed up when it joined Europe's single-visa Schengen zone in 2007.

There is speculation that during Euro 2012, Schengen rules could be eased between Poland and Ukraine, and border checks reimposed by Poland's EU neighbours Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Fans from EU member states do not require visas to enter either Poland or Ukraine, but those from elsewhere generally need them.

With Euro 2012 qualifying ongoing, organisers will only know on December 2 which team is to play where in Poland and Ukraine.

Source: AFP