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Brussels, 16 September 2011

Factsheet: What is Schengen?

A tangible, popular and successful achievement of the European Union

On 14 June 1985, five EU countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – began the process of further developing European integration by removing border controls.

The Schengen Area has grown rapidly, both geographically and in terms of the number of people benefiting from free movement. Today, over 400 million Europeans from 25 European countries enjoy passport-free travel across the area.

The two fundamental agreements which originally shaped the opening of borders within the EU are:

  • The Schengen Agreement of 1985 on the gradual abolition of checks at common borders (named after the small winemaking town in Luxembourg where it was signed).

  • The 1990 Convention which supplements the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 and lays down the arrangements and safeguards for implementing the freedom of movement. It entered into force in 1995.

These agreements, as well as related agreements and rules dealing with visa policy, police and judicial cooperation, and the return of irregular migrants, have been integrated into the framework of the European Union by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 2 October 1997

The “Schengen Acquis” and its development since the integration into the framework of the European Union is therefore binding law for participating Member States.

An area of cooperation with 42 673 km of sea and 7 721 km of land borders

With the removal of internal border controls, Member States have a responsibility to control their external borders on behalf of the other Schengen countries. This requires extensive cooperation and high standards, with a framework of binding rules for all countries involved. The Schengen acquis thus covers several areas like:

  • Common standards applying to people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States.

  • Harmonisation of the conditions of entry and the rules on visas for short stays. Travelling in Europe has also been simplified for third country citizens with the introduction of the Schengen visa. Once issued, the visa allows these citizens to enter one country and travel freely throughout the Schengen zone for up to three months.

  • Enhanced police cooperation. This includes rights of cross-border surveillance and 'hot pursuit', which authorises police officers from one country, who catch criminals in the act of committing serious offences, to pursue the perpetrators across the border on the territory of another Schengen State.

  • Stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments.

  • Establishment of the Schengen Information System: a database used by Schengen participating countries to exchange data on certain categories of people and goods.

A common European good based on trust and solidarity

Europeans take advantage of their free movement rights every day. They make over 1.25 billion journeys as tourists every year and can visit friends and relatives all over Europe without obstacles at internal borders. Moreover an area without internal border controls brings huge benefits to the economy. Between 2004 and 2007, the boost to labour mobility from new countries joining the EU increased the Union’s gross domestic product by almost a third of a percent or around €40 billion.

The construction of the Schengen area means that one Member State controls its section of the external borders on behalf of all the others, who have to trust each other.

As part of the Schengen cooperation, the EU also proposes financial and practical support to ensure freedom and security for travellers. For example:

  • The External Borders Fund establishes a financial solidarity mechanism to support those Member States that face different situations due to their geographical location, and the patterns of travel flows and migratory routes. In 2012 the available support by the External Borders Fund for actions in the field of border management and visa policy will significantly increase. For next year the Commission proposed to allocate €370.1 million to Member States (IP/11/953).

  • The mission of FRONTEX, the EU's external borders Agency, is to provide operational support to Member States in controlling their external border. The practical assistance includes Joint Operations (for example the ongoing 'Hermes' joint maritime operation in the southern Mediterranean, launched in February 2011) or the deployment of border guards (in the form of so-called' Rapid Border Intervention Teams'), as has recently been the case along the Greek-Turkish land border – MEMO/11/130)

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