Module 3: European Union

Lesson Title

Europe without borders – The Schengen Area



This lesson introduces the idea of a Europe without borders – how Schengen area was started, developed and secured.


Lesson time foreseen

40 minutes = 1 lesson


Lesson Content

The idea
The free movement of persons is a fundamental right guaranteed by the EU to its citizens. It entitles every EU citizen to travel, work and live in any EU country without special formalities. Schengen cooperation enhances this freedom by enabling citizens to cross internal borders without being subjected to border checks. The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, as well as to many non-EU nationals, businessmen, tourists or other persons legally present on the EU territory.
Free movement
Originally, the concept of free movement was to enable the European working population to freely travel and settle in any EU State, but it fell short of abolishing border controls within the Union. A break-through came in 1985 when cooperation between individual governments led to the signing, in Schengen (a small village in Luxembourg), of the Agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at common borders, followed by the signing in 1990 of the Convention implementing that Agreement. The implementation of the Schengen Agreements started in 1995, initially involving seven EU States. Born as an intergovernmental initiative, the developments brought about by the Schengen Agreements have now been incorporated into the body of rules governing the EU. Today, the Schengen Area encompasses most EU States, except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom. However, Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area. Of non-EU States, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein have joined the Schengen Area.

Any person, irrespective of nationality, may cross the internal borders without being subjected to border checks. However, the competent national authorities can carry out police checks also at the internal borders and in border areas, provided that such checks are not equivalent to border checks. This is valid for cases when, in particular, the checks do not have border control as an objective and are based on general police information and experience. It's also valid when the checks are carried out in a manner clearly distinct from systematic border checks and on the basis of spot-checks. Under such circumstances, the police may for example ask you to identify yourself or pose questions regarding your stay, depending on the purpose of the check.

If there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security, a Schengen country may exceptionally temporarily reintroduce border control at its internal borders for, in principle, a limited period of no more than thirty days. If such controls are reintroduced, the other Schengen countries, the European Parliament and the Commission should be informed, as should the public.

At internal borders …
● … you do not undergo border checks.
● … Schengen states must remove all obstacles to the fluid flow of road traffic, such as unnecessary speed limits.
● … police checks may be carried out, but only on the basis of police information about possible threats to public security or suspected cross-border crime.
● … security checks may be carried out at ports and airports, but only to verify a person’s identity.

Schengen agreement
The Schengen Agreement is a treaty which led to the creation of Europe's Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished.
Signed: 14 June 1985
Effective: 26 March 1995
Location: Schengen
Freedom and security for travelers
The Schengen provisions abolish checks at the Union's internal borders, while tightening controls at the external borders, in accordance with a single set of rules. These rules cover several areas:
● a common set of rules applying to people crossing the EU external borders, including the types of visa needed and how checks at external borders have to be carried out
● harmonization of the conditions of entry and of the rules on visas for short stays (up to three months)
● 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)
● documents needed for travelling in Europe.
Conditions for joining the Schengen Area
Joining the Schengen Area is not merely a political decision. Countries must also fulfil a list of pre-conditions, such as be prepared and have the capacity to:
● take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of the other Schengen States and for issuing uniform Schengen visas
● efficiently cooperate with law enforcement agencies in other Schengen States in order to maintain a high level of security once border controls between Schengen countries are abolished
● apply the common set of Schengen rules (the so-called "Schengen acquis"), such as controls of land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of visas, police cooperation and protection of personal data
● connect to and use the SIS.
Applicant countries undergo a "Schengen evaluation" before joining the Schengen Area and periodically thereafter to ensure the correct application of the legislation.
Schengen area members
Currently, the Schengen area consists of 26 European countries (of which 22 are EU states): Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are EU states that are not, or not yet, part of the Schengen area. This means that a flight from one of these states to a Schengen state is regarded as an external flight and is subject to border checks. However, EU citizens have the right to free movement when travelling within the EU, regardless of whether the country is part of Schengen or not. In principle, when entering a non-Schengen EU state, EU citizens only undergo minimum checks to verify their identities on the basis of travel documents (passport or identity card).
Joining the Schengen area
To join the Schengen area, the Schengen states have had to demonstrate that they are able to:
• take responsibility for controlling the area’s external border on behalf of the other Schengen states and for issuing uniform short-stay visas (Schengen visas);
• efficiently cooperate with the other Schengen states in order to maintain a high level of security once internal border controls are abolished;
• apply the set of Schengen rules, such as rules on land, sea and air border controls, visa issuing, police cooperation and personal data protection;
• connect to and use the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Visa Information System
Schengen states undergo periodic evaluations to control that they correctly apply the Schengen rules.
Visa Information System
The Visa Information System (VIS) is an IT system that connects Schengen consulates in non-EU countries, competent national authorities and all external border crossing points of Schengen states. It allows Schengen states’ visa authorities to share information on visa applications, border guards to verify with the use of biometric data (e.g. fingerprints) that a person presenting a visa is its rightful holder and competent authorities to identify persons found on the Schengen territory with no or fraudulent documents. The VIS is also used by the competent asylum authorities.
Migration crisis
As a result of the migration crisis, ongoing as of summer 2017, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden temporarily imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. Following the November 2015 Paris attacks and subsequent attacks in France, France declared a state of emergency, which has included measures to control borders with other Schengen states. The border controls enacted beginning in September 2015 led to an estimated decline in trade volumes of €70 billion per year. These countries look to remove their temporary restrictions soon and reopen their borders to other Schengen states.
Next steps
The EU is currently working on a ‘Smart border’ programme for the external border. It consists of an entry/exit system, which will improve border controls and combat irregular migration while making border crossing easier for frequent and pre-vetted travellers.
The EU is also working on modifying the visa procedure to make better links with other policy areas, such as tourism, and to further facilitate procedures for frequent travellers. A new type of visa — the ‘touring visa’ — is also under consideration, which would allow a person to stay in the territory of two or more Schengen states for a duration of more than 90 days, but no more than 1 year (with the possibility of extension for an additional year).


Test d'évaluation: