The Schengen area is made up of 26 European countries and allows for the free movement of people and harmonizes the controls of travelers within it. Member countries and functioning: find the essential on this article.

The Schengen cooperation, which began in 1985 outside the Community framework, establishes an area of free movement of persons between the signatory and associated states (abolition of internal border controls) while guaranteeing reinforced protection at the external borders of this area.

The Schengen area has 26 members:

  • 22 of the 27 member states of the European Union: Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Malta;
  • 4 associated states Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein.

The Construction of the Schengen Area

In 1985, five EEC countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) decided to create a territory without internal borders, the Schengen area, named after the Luxembourg town where the first agreements were signed.

Signed in 1985 and 1990, the Schengen agreements authorize the free movement of people and harmonize traveler controls within the area formed by these states. Included in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, they have since become an integral part of Community law.

Subsequently, the majority of EU Member States have gradually joined this area, as well as 4 associated States: Iceland (1999), Norway (1999), Switzerland (2008), and Liechtenstein (2011). The latter participate in the elaboration of decisions concerning the Schengen cooperation, but without voting rights, and choose the measures they wish to take.

*Removal of land and sea border controls. The abolition of border controls at airports on flights with these countries dates from March 2008.

**Removal of border controls at land borders. The abolition of border controls at airports on flights with Switzerland dates from March 2009.

As a non-Schengen member, Ireland has a special status: it has been granted the right to participate in only part of the Schengen provisions (opting-in clause) and participates mainly in the Schengen Information System (SIS). It thus retains the right to control people at its borders, and not to integrate the measures concerning visas, asylum and immigration as soon as they are adopted.

The 2007 Enlargement

On December 21, 2007, nine new EU member states joined the Schengen area: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Malta. Land and sea border controls were thus lifted on that date. Internal border controls at airports were lifted on 30 March 2008.

Cyprus remains outside this area for the moment, as do Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Ireland. Border controls between these countries and the Schengen area remain.

Visa-exempt countries

Visa-exempt country nationals of some 50 non-Schengen countries are nevertheless exempt from schengen visa requirements when they travel to Schengen countries.

This is notably the case for Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia because they are members of the European Union, for the United Kingdom in order to preserve freedom of movement during the transition period, and for countries close to the Schengen area (Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina) or further afield on all continents (United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan…).

Negotiations are still in progress with other countries (Russia, Turkey…).

Legal and Institutional System

Since the integration of the Schengen Acquis into Community law in 1997, Schengen cooperation has become part of the legal and institutional framework of the EU. Each measure taken in application of the Schengen Convention has a legal basis in the European treaties.

In this area, the European Commission has the power of initiative, the Council of Ministers decides by a qualified majority, and the procedure for adopting acts on visas, asylum and immigration is the ordinary legislative procedure.

Created in 2004, the Frontex Agency helps the member states of the European Union and the Schengen area to secure their external borders.

The Schengen acquis

The Schengen Agreements (the Agreement signed on June 14, 1985, its protocols as well as the accession agreements of the States) gave rise to the adoption of an application convention (Schengen Convention of June 19, 1990) and then to various implementation measures.

The Schengen Acquis is organized along two axes of cooperation, which are now part of the development policies of the area of freedom, security, and justice. Together, these texts constitute the Schengen Acquis.

In 1999, the Schengen Acquis was integrated into the EU framework via a protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam, and thus became part of Community law. Various decisions of the Council of the EU of 20 May 1999 take up the main measures of the Acquis and define, for each one, the corresponding legal basis in the European treaties. These are the legal rules that the countries applying for EU membership must incorporate into their national legislation. They concern the harmonization of external border controls and the strengthening of police and judicial cooperation.

Temporary Re-Establishment of Border Controls

The member states of the Schengen area have the possibility of temporarily re-establishing controls at their national borders in the event of threats to public order or security, for renewable periods of 30 days and, in principle, for a maximum of six months (articles 23 and following of the “Schengen Borders Code”).

Following the events of the Arab Spring, France and Italy obtained in 2013 the possibility for any member to extend this period to 24 months in the event of “serious failure by a Member State to comply with its external border control obligations”.

The arrival in 2011 of millions of migrants fleeing the Arab revolutions towards European territory, transiting through the island of Lampedusa, led Italy to issue six-month residence permits, authorizing them to travel in the Schengen area.

But on April 17, France decided to block a convoy of migrants in Ventimiglia, on the Italian border, citing a risk of disturbing public order. Following a Franco-Italian request, the European Commission proposed a regulation, adopted in 2013, to strengthen the Schengen area.

Germany, during the soccer world cup in 2006, Austria for the Euro 2008, Poland for the Euro 2012, France for the COP 21 and then following the attacks of November 2015, and finally many states due to the migration crisis have used this option to temporarily reintroduce passport control at their national borders. Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic that strikes Europe, from March 2020, several member states of the Schengen area such as Spain, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, or Germany also use the Schengen border code to close their borders.



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