Schengen Area

The Schengen area and cooperation are founded on the Schengen Agreement of 1985.

The Schengen area represents a territory where the free movement of persons is guaranteed.  The signatory States to the Agreement have abolished all internal borders in lieu of a single external border.  Here common rules and procedures are applied with regard to visas for short-stays, asylum requests and border controls.  Simultaneously, cooperation and coordination between Police services and Judicial authorities guarantee security. Schengen cooperation was incorporated into the European Union (EU) legal framework by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997.

Schengen Member States

To date, a total of 26 countries adhere to the Schengen Agreement. 22 are EU Member States and another 4 countries (non EU Member States) are Associated States, all of which have abolished border control and fully implement the Schengen acquis in relation to visa issuance.

The 26 Schengen Member States are – Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland*, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein*, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway*, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland*

* Non EU Member States

While 4 EU Members States – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not yet fully-fledged members of the Schengen area; another 2 – Ireland and the United Kingdom, maintain autonomous visa, immigration and asylum policies and do not participate in Schengen cooperation.

Development of cooperation and extension of the Schengen area

The first agreement between the five original group members was signed on 14 June 1985. A further convention was drafted and signed on 19 June 1990. When it took effect in 1995, it abolished checks at the internal borders of the signatory states and created a single external border where immigration checks for the Schengen area are carried out in accordance with identical procedures. Common rules regarding visas, right of asylum and checks at external borders were adopted to allow the free movement of persons within the signatory states without disrupting law and order.

Accordingly, in order to reconcile freedom and security, this freedom of movement was accompanied by so-called “compensatory” measures. This involved improving cooperation and coordination between the police and the judicial authorities in order to safeguard internal security and, in particular, to fight organized crime. With this in mind, the Schengen Information System (SIS) was set up. SIS is a sophisticated database used by authorities of the Schengen member countries to exchange data on certain categories of people and goods.

The Schengen area gradually expanded to include nearly every Member State. Italy signed the agreements on 27 November 1990, Spain and Portugal joined on 25 June 1991, Greece followed on 6 November 1992, then Austria on 28 April 1995 and Denmark, Finland and Sweden on 19 December 1996. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia joined on 21 December 2007 and the associated country Switzerland on 12 December 2008. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not yet fully-fledged members of the Schengen area; border controls between them and the Schengen area are maintained until the EU Council decides that the conditions for abolishing internal border controls have been met.

Key rules adopted within the Schengen framework include:

  • removal of checks on persons at the internal borders;
  • a common set of rules applying to people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States;
  • harmonisation of the conditions of entry and of the rules on visas for short stays;
  • enhanced police cooperation (including rights of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit);
  • stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments;
  • establishment and development of the Schengen Information System (SIS).

The Schengen Information System (SIS)

At the heart of the Schengen mechanism, an information system was set up. It allows national border control and judicial authorities to obtain information on persons or objects.

Member States supply information to the system through national networks (N-SIS) connected to a central system (C-SIS). This IT system is supplemented by a network known as SIRENE (Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry), which is the human interface of the SIS.

Incorporating the Schengen acquis into the EU framework

A protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam incorporates the developments brought about by the Schengen Agreement into the EU framework. The Schengen area is now within the legal and institutional framework of the EU. Thus, it comes under parliamentary and judicial scrutiny, and attains the objective of free movement of persons enshrined in the Single European Act of 1986, while ensuring democratic parliamentary control and giving citizens accessible legal remedies when their rights are challenged (Court of Justice and/or national courts, depending on the area of law).

In order to make this integration possible, the Council of the EU took a number of decisions. First, as set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Council took the place of the Executive Committee created under the Schengen Agreements. With its Decision 1999/307/EC of 1 May 1999, the Council established a procedure for incorporating the Schengen Secretariat into the General Secretariat of the Council, including arrangements relating to Schengen Secretariat staff. Subsequently, new working groups were set up to help the Council manage the work.

One of the Council’s most important tasks in incorporating the Schengen area was to choose those provisions and measures taken by the signatory states that formed a genuine acquis, or body of law, and that could serve as a basis for further cooperation. A list of the elements that make up the acquis, setting out the corresponding legal basis for each of them in the Treaties (EC Treaty or the Treaty on the European Union), was adopted by Council Decisions 1999/435/EC and 1999/436/EC of 20 May 1999, all of which were published in the Official Journal.

Since then, the Schengen legislation has been further developed through the application of new EU legislation such as the Visa Code and the Schengen Borders Code.