35 years ago on 14 June 1985, five European countries did something visionary.
They signed an agreement in the town of Schengen in Luxembourg to gradually abolish checks at their common borders.
Now, 26 European countries are members of the Schengen area of free movement.
That’s 420 million people. 22 out of 27 EU Member States.
Over the last few months, we’ve got a new appreciation of the freedom this space had given us.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.
And 12 weeks of restrictions brought into focus that which we had taken for granted.
Of course, to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect our health care systems, to save lives, Member States had to take drastic measures.
Some of us were locked inside our houses, inside our towns and cities, and behind national borders.
But our desire to return to normal, even a ‘new normal’, never dimmed.
If anything it grew.
In 35 years, freedom of movement has become part of our daily lives. Part of who we are, as Europeans.
The virus has reminded us what Europe looked like without free movement.
Just think, 35 years ago, millions of Europeans in Central and Eastern Europe did not have that freedom to move, that freedom to leave their country.
This moment has been a reminder from the past of what should never be our future.
Now slowly, we are regaining our freedoms.
We’re getting back, what we’d momentarily lost.
Last week, I recommended to Member States to end the controls at internal borders that had been reintroduced because of the virus.
And from 15 June onwards, almost all of these restrictions will have been lifted.
There is no better gift to celebrate Schengen’s anniversary
As Europe slowly but surely starts moving again, I want to make one thing very clear.
The Schengen agreement was never more important, than it was the last few months.
The Member States have closely worked together, under the guidance and coordination of the European Commission.
Based on the solid foundation of the Schengen rulebook;
Rules that are applied by each and work for all. These rules kept essential goods flowing. Kept food on our dinner tables. Provided gloves and masks for our doctors and nurses, fighting the virus. Delivered respirators for patients, fighting for their lives.
We could work together so effectively, thanks to the trust built up over 35 years of free movement.
And it’s that freedom and friendship, we are celebrating.
Schengen has passed a major test.
Happy birthday and here’s to the next 35 years.