We’ve all heard of the term ‘Schengen’. But, how did it come to into the spotlight? Well, the story traces all the way back to the year 1995 on a houseboat on a river near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg where 5 European nations met and signed a treaty called the Schengen agreement.
In the following years after the initial agreement, several additions including the introduction of the Schengen Area and the Schengen visa has been implemented. And as of 2019, there are 26 Schengen countries that signed the agreement, making the Schengen region the world’s largest visa-free zone. The agreement focused on the member countries abolishing internal between them and providing visa-free travel between the participating countries.
What is Schengen Agreement?
Signed on June 14, 1985, in the city of Schengen in Luxembourg, the Schengen agreement is a treaty focused on making entire Europe without internal borders. Initially signed by 5 member states of the EU (European Union), this was followed by the Schengen. The area containing the Schengen agreement countries is known as the Schengen Area, and act as if they are a single state. The follow-up agreement signed at the Schengen convention has removed any border control between the member states by developing a common visa for the entire zone known as the Schengen visa. The countries under Schengen visa agreement include 22 EU countries and 4 non-EU countries, making it the world’s largest visa-free zone.
The Schengen agreement signed in 1985 was implemented at the Schengen convention that took place in 1990. It was a follow-up to the 1985 agreement and proposed that complete internal borders were abolished, and the common Schengen visa was initiated. Every EU(European Union) country at the time, except the UK and Ireland, were a part of the Schengen Convention in 1990. However, the agreement signed at the convention finally took effect in 1995.
History of Schengen
A Borderless Europe
Despite the fact that the history of Schengen agreement is quite recent, the dream for a borderless Europe can be traced back to the early World War years. The after-effects of WWII in Europe had severely left the trade and economy devastated. This all the more increased the needs for ease of transport and travel between the European nations. In fact, the first smell of a borderless Europe was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 where the EEC (European Economic Community) countries signed an agreement that allowed people to cross borders with just a passport and a national ID.
The Schengen Agreement
Eventually, in 1985, officials from Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany met near the town of Luxembourg on a boat in the river Moselle to sign the Schengen treaty which focused on removing border controls and allowing people to cross borders away from fixed checkpoints. In fact, three of the countries, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg had already abolished borders as a part of the BENELUX.
The Schengen Convention
A major role in the Schengen agreement history is the Schengen convention in 1990. This convention created what we know as the Schengen area and introduced a common visa for travellers, total judicial cooperation between the member states, and the Schengen Information System (SIS). All the then EU (European Union) countries apart from the UK and Ireland were a part of this. However, despite this, the Schengen was not a part of the EU. Later that year, Italy joined the Schengen agreement.
In the year 1991, Portugal and Spain made their decision to join the Schengen, followed by Greece in 1992. The Schengen Convention was finally implemented in the year 1995 with 7 countries abolishing their internal borders - France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain and Portugal. The year also saw Austria join the agreement, succeeded by Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in 1996. Although all the members of the Schengen were a part of the EU, in 1996, two non-EU countries of Norway and Iceland became the first members to join the Schengen.
The Treaty of Amsterdam
Another major milestone in the history of Schengen is the year 1997. This marked the establishment of the Amsterdam treaty where the EU took in the Schengen. As per this agreement, the Schengen agreement became a part of the EU legal framework. But at the same time, they agreed for opt-outs to remain for the UK and Ireland. The rule was legally implemented in 1999.
Schengen in the 21st Century
The growth of the Schengen area continued in the 21st century with Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Lithuania, and Poland joining the Schengen in 2003, followed by the non-EU country of Switzerland joining in 2004. In the year 2008, Liechtenstein became the last member to join the Schengen. Along with this, the Schengen is not considered as a treaty anymore as it is now a part of the EU law. Despite the agreement for no internal borders, temporary borders keep being established whenever necessary in cases of political issues.
Members of Schengen Area
As of 2019, there are 26 official members of Schengen area. Out of this, 22 are officially a part of the EU (European Union) and the 4 are non-EU. Despite the fact that the Schengen is a part of the legal framework of the EU, the EU countries of the UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen as they have been recognised as opt-outs. The current Schengen agreement members include EU states of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and non-EU states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Members outside the EU
Despite being located outside the continent of Europe, the Portuguese territories of Azores, Madeira, and the Spanish territory of the Canary Islands are the only countries that are considered as both the members of the EU and a part of the Schengen Zone.
Non-Schengen “Schengen” Members
Along with the Carribean Islands of France, the European microstates of San Marino, Monaco, Vatican City, and Andorra are officially not a part of the Schengen area map, but are de facto considered as Schengen. Meaning, even though they are not a legal Schengen state, they act as one and have open or semi-open borders with the Schengen area.
Potential Schengen Members
Apart from these, there are a few countries which despite being a part of the EU, are classified as ‘potential Schengen area countries’. These countries are set to be a part of the Schengen area provided that they meet the strict level of eligibility criteria. Currently, they have been put on hold due to unresolved political and regional conflicts such as illegal migration, corruption issues, and so on. On successfully solving these issues, and meeting the conditions, they will become a part of the Schengen. The countries that are next in line for this are -
One of the top countries on the list to become Schengen is Croatia. Having joined the EU in 2013, the country was legally required to join the Schengen. In fact, in 2015, the country had officially given the signal for the technical evaluation. The evaluation came out as positive and Croatia was set to become the next Schengen country. As a part of this, in 2017, the country even received access to the Schengen Information System (SIS).
However, due to the European migration crisis in the year of 2015, Croatia saw a large influx of illegal migrants from Greece. This led to several issued regarding the sustainability of the country and hence, are put on hold. To make things worse for them, Hungary has raised a threat stating that they will veto Croatia’s transformation to Schengen as Croatia allowed the migrants to enter Hungary.
In 2018, the Croatian government announced that they will meet the requirements again by the end of 2018, and would potentially become a Schengen state by 2020. Having received an unofficial confirmation that they have met the requirements, the official decision is set to be announced by September 2019, and if successful, they would be declared as a Schengen member by mid-2020.
The island country of Cyprus, although being an EU member since 2004 and thereby being legally required to join the Schengen, have not been able to do so. They have not been able to meet the eligibility requirements due to the ongoing ‘Cyprus Dispute’ - a long going dispute between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.
Apart from this, there are also political issues regarding the sovereign lands of Akrotiri and Dhekelia that are outside the EU that needs “handling and other mechanisms”. If they are able to resolve these issues, Cypriot can ask for official inspection and be on their way to join the agreement.
- Bulgaria and Romania
Bulgaria and Romania have been a member of the EU since 2007. Despite the legal requirement to join the Schengen, they have not been able to do so due to several issues. Initially, in 2011, the European Council had voted for the countries to be a part of the Schengen. Nevertheless, later that year, the Council of Ministers rejected this move stating concerns from the Finnish and Dutch governments that Bulgaria and Romania have inadequate measures in fighting corruption and organised crime. This position was further solidified by the Germans, Dutch, and Finnish governments later also raising issues stating that Turkish immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania have been illegally moving into the Schengen.
Eventually, in 2017, the European Parliament voted to provide the 2 countries with the SIS (Schengen Information System), following which in 2018, the parliament unanimously voted for the resolution of including these countries in the Schengen, and has asked the European Council to make a decision on this matter. As a result, Bulgaria and Romania will join the region as soon as the council has met.
Although these countries are not technically a constituent of the Schengen zone countries, they still allow entry with a multiple-entry Schengen visa, provided that it is not a port of entry. Along with these, except for Cyprus, the other countries also have access to the SIS.
Schengen States Territories that are not part of the Schengen
One might think that if a state is considered as a Schengen, then its territories would automatically be a part of it. However, this is far from the truth. The political and legal laws are much more complex. As a result, there are Schengen state territories that are a part of Schengen, and there are those that are not. Let us have a look at the areas that despite being a territory of a Schengen state, are still not considered a part of the agreement.
- French Territories
France is one of the founding members of the Schengen agreement. Despite this, there are a lot of territories of France that are outside the area. In fact, even a Schengen visa issued for France is not enough for you to enter these areas.
- EU / Non-Schengen
The overseas territories of France such as the French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion, and the overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin, despite being located outside the Europe continent, are a part of the EU, but not a part of the Schengen. Although the ‘EU freedom of movement’ applies to these, there are individual visa rules for these territories for non-EEA (European Economic Association) and non-Swiss nationals.
- Non-EU / Non-Schengen
Apart from the above, there are a few overseas territories of France that are neither a part of the EU nor a part of the Schengen. These are French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Caledonia, Saint, and Wallis and Futuna.
- EU / Non-Schengen
- Dutch Territories
There are a number of autonomous regions of the Netherlands that are not a part of the Schengen. Due to the fact that these are outside the European continent, they are not a part of the EU or the Schengen. They include the overseas territories of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba (known as BES Islands) and Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten (autonomous countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Each of these regions has its own visa regime, and EU nationals cannot enter them without going through border security checks and passports. Even the citizens of the Netherlands will require to follow these.
- Norwegian Territory
The territory of Svalbard is a part of the Kingdom of Norway. Being provided with a special status under international law, this archipelago is not a part of the Schengen or even the EEA. Nevertheless, what makes this even more interesting is that Svalbard does not have its own visa regime. To enter Svalbard, however, you will almost always require to pass through a Schengen country. As a result, ironically, it is a necessity to hold a multiple-entry Schengen visa to visit Svalbard.
For example, if you are travelling to Svalbard from India, you will have to first enter Norway and then enter the visa-free region of Svalbard from there. After your visit, you will have to return to Norway first before travelling back to India as Norway and Svalbard have border control between them. This means that you are entering the Schengen zone of Norway twice during your visit, thereby requiring multiple entries.
- Danish Territories
The Faroe Islands and Greenland are two integral parts of Denmark. However, neither of them are a part of the EU or the Schengen area. As a result, you cannot enter them with a normal Schengen visa. Citizens of EU/EEA can enter them with a passport and a respective national ID. Although, nationals of the Nordic countries can enter with their IDs. For everyone else, you will require a Danish visa which mentions that it is specifically valid for Greenland or the Faroe Islands. Nevertheless, there are no border controls in these two countries. As a result, the air or sea carriers will be in charge of performing the necessary checks before boarding.