What is the Schengen Agreement?

Schengen Agreement

Schengen Agreement Illustration

The Schengen Agreement has been created to abolish all the internal borders between European countries to make Europe one. It was signed in 1985 in the Luxembourgian town of the same name and was supplemented by the Schengen Convention in 1990 when the key terms of the agreement were discussed and laid down.

The Schengen agreement was signed into EU law in the year 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

In this article

History of the Schengen Area and Schengen Agreement

To completely understand the Schengen Visa rules and regulations, it is essential to understand the history of the Schengen area and the Schengen Agreement.

During the 1980s, a fierce debate began over the meaning of free movement of persons between the European countries. While some member states were of the opinion that the concept should apply to European Union (EU) citizens keeping internal checks to distinguish EU and non-EU members, others set of members argued in favor of free movement for everyone supporting the end to internal border checks altogether.

Signing of the Schengen Agreement

Since the Member States could not reach a consensus, 5 countries including France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided to create a territory without internal borders in the year 1985. The significant Schengen Agreement was thus signed in June 1985 between the abovementioned 5 countries. This area became the “Schengen area“, after the town in Luxembourg with the name ‘Schengen’ where the initial Schengen agreements were signed. 

The Schengen area represents a territory which allows the free movement of the members in the Schengen area. There are total of 26 states which are part of the Schengen Area which allows their citizens the free entrance at mutual borders. The Schengen Area was created to better control and regulates the borders of particular countries to allow the free entrance of the citizens of the member countries in the designated parts of the Europe which form the Schengen Area.

The countries that are a part of the Schengen area includes Denmark, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic , Slovenia, Greece, France, Italy,  Portugal, Spain, Luxembourg, Vatican, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Lithuania, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands.

What was covered under Schengen Agreement?

  • Complete removal of checks on persons at the internal borders between participant members
  • Better rules and regulations for entry and of the rules on Schengen visas for short stays
  • Application of the common set of rules for the people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States
  • Formation and development of the Schengen Information System (SIS)

Extension of the Schengen area

The first Schengen Agreement between the five original group members was signed on 14 June 1985. However, a further convention was drafted and signed on 19 June 1990 for the concrete implementation of the Schengen agreement. The agreement covered the issues on the abolition of any kind of internal border controls, procedures for issuing a uniform visa, implementation of a single database called as SIS, that is, Schengen Information System for all members, which is a consolidated database used by the Schengen authorities  for exchanging data in specific situations.

After the convention came into effect in the year1995, it abolished all the 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 uniform procedures. 

Addition of more members to the Schengen Agreement

The Schengen area gradually expanded to include many other member states of Europe. Below is the list of member states which joined Schengen Agreement in the subsequent years post its commencement-

  • Italy signed the agreements on 27 November 1990 followed by Spain and Portugal on 25 June 1991 
  • Greece joined on 6 November 1992
  • Austria joined on 28 April 1995 
  • Denmark, Finland, and Sweden joined on 19 December 1996
  • Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta, and Slovakia joined on 21 December 2007 
  • Switzerland joined on 12 December 2008

Exceptions to the Schengen Agreement

Below are the countries in the Schengen Zone that are not the part of the Schengen Agreement

  • Parts of France not located in the Europe
  • Svalbard in Norway
  • Aruba in Netherlands
  • Greenland and the Faroe Islands of the Denmark were earlier excluded and later integrated
  • Other countries such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, and Romania are not yet fully-fledged members of the Schengen area
  • Ireland and the United Kingdom although a part of EU are not the part of Schengen agreement
  • Non-EU countries including Serbia, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Ukraine, and Russia are not part of the Schengen agreement

The residency and the work permit for non-EU nationals is not covered under Schengen Agreement as well.

Incorporation of the Schengen Agreement into the EU framework

Treaty of Amsterdam incorporated all the developments brought about by the Schengen Agreement into the EU framework. To ensure better regulation and more transparency, the Schengen area now falls within the legal and institutional framework of the EU. 

The Schengen Agreement is under parliamentary and judicial scrutiny and attains the objective of free movement of persons as envisioned in the Single European Act of 1986, to make sure democratic parliamentary control and give more accessibility to the citizens for the legal remedies in case of disputes.

How did this happen?

The Council of the EU took a number of decisions to ensure the integration happens smoothly. In the beginning as mentioned 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.

What is the significance of the Schengen area?

The Schengen agreement gives the freedom of movement to all the EU citizens to freely cross internal borders within the Schengen area. Non-EU citizens, however, are required to obtain a Schengen visa depending upon the purpose of travel such as Working Schengen Visa, Business Schengen Visa, Tourist Schengen Visa, Student Schengen Visa or Transit Schengen Visa that allows them to move freely within the Schengen area.

Salient features of the Schengen Area

  • The members of the Schengen area are allowed enhanced cooperation from the authorities
  • It allows the access to the SIS for enhanced cooperation in the times of extreme conditions such as fighting crime etc
  • Schengen area allows harmonization of visa rules for short-stay visas to guarantee the right to stay for up to three months in the designated Schengen area