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Schengen Area

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.

 

Schengen Area as of 1/7/2013

 

Free movement in Europe

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 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.

More information on checks at internal borders can be found in the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union, concerning cases C-188/10 (Melki) and C-278/12 (Adil), as well as in the Commission's reports COM (2010) 554 on internal borders , COM (2012) 230 on the functioning of the Schengen area and COM (2013) 326 on the functioning of the Schengen area .

Freedom and security for travellers

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
  • harmonisation 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.

Additional tools




Glossary

Visa (short stay) (Schengen visa)

An authorisation issued by a Schengen State with a view to: - transit through or an intended stay in the territory ...

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Uniform visa

A visa valid for the entire territory of the Schengen States.

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Schengen State

An EU State or associated non-EU country participating in the Schengen Area.

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Schengen Information System (SIS)

A joint information system that is used by border guards and by police, customs, visa and judicial authorities ...

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Schengen Area

As of December 2011, the Schengen Area consists of the following EU States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark,...

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Schengen Agreement & Convention

With the signing on 14 June 1985 of the Schengen Agreement, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and ...

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Right to freedom of movement

A fundamental right of every citizen of an EU State or another European Economic Area (EEA) State or Switzerland ...

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Non-EU national

Any person not having the nationality of an EU State.

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Internal EU border

- the common land borders, including river and lake borders, of EU States...

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External EU border

An EU States’ land borders, including river and lake borders, sea borders and their airports, river ports, sea ports ...

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Entry

Any entrance of a person from one country to another, whether voluntary or involuntary, authorised or unauthorised.

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Border surveillance

The surveillance of borders between border crossing points and the surveillance of border crossing points outside ...

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Border crossing

The physical act of crossing a border either at a border crossing point or another point along the border.

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Border control

The activity carried out at a border, in accordance with and for the purposes of Regulation 562/2006, exclusively in ...

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Border checks

Checks carried out at border crossing points to ensure that persons, including their means of transport and the objects in their possession, may be authorised to enter the territory of the Schengen States or authorised to leave it.

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Border

A line separating land territory or maritime zones of two States or subparts of States. It can also refer to a region ...

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