Schengen in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, February 2005

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When in the mid-1980s the completion of the European Single Market was high on the agenda of the European Community the question arose how the aim to establish the four freedoms of movement - of persons, goods, capital and services - could be realised. The free movement of persons proved to be a particularly difficult point: interpretations varied among Member States whether this should apply to workers only, that means EU citizens who were seeking employment in other Member States, or to everyone in general - including third country nationals. Only the latter option meant that internal border checks could be completely abolished in the Single Market.

Given the very limited scope of political cooperation on issues relating to Justice and Home Affairs at that time, five Member States decided to engage in closer cooperation in order to work towards the gradual removal of controls at their internal borders. On 14 June 1985, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed an agreement in the Luxembourg village of Schengen on the Moselle. The common space they intended to create was to be known as the Schengen Area.

In June 1990 the participating states signed the Schengen Convention which laid down the implementation of the Schengen Agreement. In practice, the Convention entered into force in 1995 when a number of legal and technical problems had been solved. The abolition of internal border controls had to be compensated by a range of measures concerning the area's external borders. The so called 'Schengen acquis' lays down the modes of intensified cooperation between national police, customs and judicial authorities. In addition to the fight against terrorism and organised crime this includes issues related to immigration and asylum (e.g. the 1997 Dublin Convention on the determination of the Member State responsible for the examination of an asylum application).

More states joined the initial Schengen group: Italy (1990), Spain and Portugal (1991), Greece (1992), Austria (1995), Denmark, Finland and Sweden (1996). With the accession of the three Nordic countries, Iceland and Norway became closely associated, so that from 2001 all five countries of the Nordic Passport Union - which had existed since 1954 - implemented the Schengen acquis. Ireland and the United Kingdom are not Members of the Schengen area but were given the possibility to join later or participate in parts of the arrangements if they wish so and the other Members unanimously agree. Denmark, although a signatory state may choose not to implement any new decision due to its opt-out, negotiated in the wake of the failed Maastricht referendum. Iceland and Norway remain closely associated with Schengen developments. Switzerland is currently in the process of ratifying the Second Bilateral agreements with the EU, which include the Schengen and Dublin Conventions. A referendum in may be held from June 2005 on the eventual accession of the country to the Schengen Area.

Aiming at the creation of an EU-wide 'Area of Freedom, Security and Justice' (AFSJ) the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) incorporated the Schengen acquis into the European Union's legal framework. To this purpose a Protocol was added to the Treaty - also taking into account the special positions of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Denmark - and the Council took over the responsibilities of the Schengen Executive Committee. This means that the term Schengen is not used in the Treaty itself, it is, however still in frequent use relating to technical aspects of the Schengen acquis (eg. Schengen Information System, Schengen area).

The incorporation of Schengen into the European Union means that new Member States have to adopt all the Schengen provisions. It does not mean, however, that they will immediately become part of the Schengen area upon accession. In the case of the ten new Member States which joined the EU in 2004 it might take some time until they are able to take on board all the obligations that come with it.

A pivotal feature of the Schengen cooperation is the Schengen Information System (SIS) which since 1995 allows police and other national authorities to access data on specific people and items (such as stolen goods and vehicles). The data, which is stored in national networks (N-SIS) is distributed by a central system (C-SIS), located in Strasbourg. National authorities all over the Schengen area can retrieve information within minutes via portable devices. Although not members of Schengen, Ireland and the United Kingdom have used their 'opt-in' to participate in some aspects of the Schengen Information System.

The Joint Supervisory Authority Schengen (JSA), a Brussels-based independent body made up of representatives of the national data protection authorities, has the task of monitoring the security and the lawfulness of the personal data entered in the system in the light of the Schengen Convention.

The Schengen Information System has been developed to function for 18 Member States (the 15 Schengen countries plus Ireland and the UK and one in spare) and will have to be replaced by a new system, SIS II, to accommodate a much higher number of Member States. This system is planned to be operational by the end of 2006.

The Constitutional Treaty for Europe, as signed in October 2004, takes over the Protocol concerning the integration of Schengen into the EU framework from the present Treaties.

This In Focus provides links to key documentation associated with Schengen cooperation. The link at the bottom of the In Focus will find further and subsequent information on Schengen in European Sources Online.

EU: Legislation and Policy Making

European Commission: COM(2004) 835: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the Visa Information System (VIS) and the exchange of data between Member States on short stay-visas, December 2004
EUR-LEX: 42000A0922(01): The Schengen acquis - Agreement between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders
EUR-LEX: Legislation in Force: 19.30 - Police and judicial cooperation in criminal and customs matters (access to further Schengen related legislation)
Eur-lex: Treaty of Amsterdam: Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the framework of the European Union
Eur-lex: Constitutional Treaty for Europe: Protocol [No.17] on the Schengen Acquis Integrated into the Framework of the European Union.
European Commission: SCADplus: The Amsterdam Treaty: a Comprehensive Guide: Freedom, security and justice: Incorporating the Schengen area into the European Union
Council of the European Union: Press Release: PRES/04/173: Justice and Home Affairs Council, 8 June 2004
Council of the European Union: Press Release: PRES/04/150: Justice and Home Affairs Council, 5-6 June 2003
EUR-LEX: 42000A0922(02): The Schengen acquis - Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985
European Commission: COM (2003)771: Development of the Schengen Information System II and possible synergies with a future Visa Information System (VIS): 11 December 2003
Council of the European Union: Press Release: PRES/04/281: Signature of a number of agreements with the Swiss Confederation, 27 October 2004

EU: Background

European Commission: SCADplus: Glossary: Schengen (Agreement and Convention)
European Commission: SCADplus: Activities of the EU: Justice and Home Affairs: The Schengen acquis and its integration into the Union
European Commission: SCADplus: Activities of the EU: Justice and Home Affairs: Schengen Information System II
European Parliament: Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs: AFSJ - Area of Freedom, Security and Justice in the EU - An agenda for Europe
Joint Supervisory Authority Schengen (JSA): Homepage
European Commission: DG Justice, Freedom and Security: Freedom to Travel: Schengen Convention

National/regional/local official organisation

United Kingdom: Parliament: House of Lords: Select Committee on the European Union: 5th Report(1999-2000)HL34: UK participation in the Schengen Acquis
United Kingdom: National Criminal Intelligence Service: Introducing Sirene UK and the Schengen Information System, 2004
Ireland: Government: Oasis: Free movement of people within the Schengen zone, August 2004
Sweden: Ministry of Justice: Information material: Schengen cooperation - what is it and how does it affect me? March 2001
Sweden: Migration Board: Facts about the Schengen Information System, March 2001
Sweden: Migration Board: Facts about the Schengen Agreement, May 2004
Denmark: Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs: Denmark and Schengen, July 2002
United Kingdom: Parliament: House of Lords: Select Committee on the European Union: 21st Report (1997-98)HL87: Defining the Schengen Acquis
Germany: Foreign Office: The Schengen Agreement and the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement, 2003
United Kingdom: Parliament: House of Lords: Select Committee on the European Union: 7th Report (1998-99)HL37: Schengen and the United Kingdom's border controls

Stakeholder organisation

Statewatch: Statewatch bulletin, Vol 11 No 1: Schengen Information System - SIS II: technical innovation a pretext for more data and more control, Jan-Feb 2001

Commercial publisher and media

BBC: In Depth: Euro-glossary: Schengen Agreement, 30 April 2001
BBC: Special Report: Background to Schengen Agreement, 28 November 1997


European Parliament: Recommendation to the Council on the second-generation Schengen information system (SIS II), 2003/2180(INI), 20 November 2003

Related Topic Guides / In Focus

European Sources Online: In Focus: The Hague Programme: New five year justice and home affairs strategy adopted by the European Union, November 2004
European Sources Online: Topic Guide: Justice and Home Affairs, February 2005

Related Publications


Faria, Cláudia (ed.): Enlarging the area of freedom, security and justice, European Institute of Public Administration, 2004

Journal Articles

Grabbe, Heather: The sharp edges of Europe: extending Schengen eastwards, International Affairs 76, 3 (2000) 519-526

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