On 14 June 1985, five EU countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - began the process of further developing European integration by removing border controls through the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen Area has grown rapidly geographically and over 400 million Europeans from 25 Member States now enjoy passport-free travel across the area.
Key features of the agreement
The removal of checks on persons at the internal borders is compensated for by extensive cooperation and high standards setting out binding rules for all countries involved. These rules cover several areas:
-Common standards applying to people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States.
-Harmonisation of the conditions of entry and the rules on visas for short stays.
-Enhanced police cooperation (including rights of cross-border surveillance and 'hot pursuit', which authorises police officers from one country, who catch criminals in the act of committing serious offences, to pursue the perpetrators across the border on the territory of another Schengen state).
-Stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments.
-Establishment of the Schengen Information System: a database used by Schengen member countries to exchange data on certain categories of people and goods.
Schengen, an area of free movement
The Schengen area without border controls currently consists of 25 Schengen Member States i.e. the EU countries Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, as well as the two associated countries, Iceland and Norway and, since December 2008, Switzerland. Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus only partially apply the Schengen acquis at the moment and checks are, therefore, still carried out at the borders with these three Member States.
Free movement is guaranteed on a territory with 42,673 km of external sea and 7,721 km of land borders, covering 25 countries and 400 million citizens.
Travelling in Europe has also been simplified for third country citizens with the introduction of the Schengen visa. Once issued, the visa allows these citizens to enter one country and travel freely throughout the Schengen zone for up to three months.
History of the Schengen cooperation
14 June 1985: The Agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders is signed between Belgium, the Netherlands, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, France and the Federal Republic of Germany. The name of the small village of Schengen (approximately 400 inhabitants), located in the south-east of Luxembourg, close to the German and French border, has since become synonymous with the opening of borders within the EU;
19 June 1990: The Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement is signed by the same States. It confirms the arrangements and safeguards for implementing the freedom of movement. It will not enter into force until 1995.
26 March 1995: Abolition of border controls between Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
26 Oct. 1997/
1 Dec. 1997: First move towards the enlargement of the Schengen area: Italy and Austria gradually start to abolish their border controls. This process is completed on the 31st of March 1998.
1 May 1999: Integration of Schengen into the European legal framework following the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty.
1 March 2000: Second move towards the enlargement of the Schengen area: Greece gradually starts to abolish its border controls. This process will be completed on 26 March 2000.
29 May 2000: Council of the EU decides on UK participation in some Schengen provisions. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen area but only participates in certain aspects of the Schengen rules built up overtime, mainly police and judicial cooperation (except those linked to 'hot pursuit').
25 March 2001: Abolition of border controls with Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
28 February 2002: Council decision on Ireland's request to take part in some aspects of Schengen, roughly corresponding to the aspects covered by the United Kingdom's request.
21 Dec. 2007: Major enlargement of the Schengen area with the abolition of control of land and sea borders with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Border checks on intra-Schengen flights at airports were abolished on 30 March 2008.
28 Feb. 2008: Signature with Liechtenstein of a protocol on the participation of Liechtenstein in the Schengen area.
12 Dec. 2008: Abolition of border control at land borders with Switzerland. Border checks on intra-Schengen flights at airports were abolished on 29 March 2009.
Relevant legal texts adopted within the EU which form part of the Schengen-related law include:
Schengen Borders Code (Regulation (EC) No 562/2006) which establishes rules governing the movement of persons across borders; in particular this Regulation stresses the abolition of border control at internal borders and further harmonises the rules on crossing external borders and the prerequisites for entry for short stays by third-country nationals. It repeals the relevant parts of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement.
Visa Code (Regulation (EC) No 810/2009) applicable since April 5, 2010 sets out all procedures and conditions for issuing "short stay visas" and "airport transit visas". It also establishes the lists of third country nationals who are required to hold "airport transit visas" when passing through the international transit areas of airports situated on the territory of the Member States.
List of third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement (Regulation (EC) No 539/2001).
Local Border Traffic regime (Regulation (EC) 1931/2006): Member States are allowed to conclude bilateral agreements with their neighbours within the framework of the Regulation, on the basis of which they can derogate from the general rules on borders checks for persons living in the border area in order to prevent the creation of barriers to trade, social and cultural interchange or regional cooperation.
Visa Information System (Regulation (EC) 767/2008): used for the exchange of data between Member States on applications for, and granting of short stay visas.
For more information
Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs: