The Schengen Agreement is the legal basis of the establishment of the Schengen Area. It was initially signed in 1985 by five countries: France, Germany and the Benelux countries, which were Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, from where it took its name.
The idea behind the agreement was to establish a free European zone with no internal borders.
The Schengen Convention
The agreement was later supplemented by the Schengen Convention in 1990, and signed by the same five countries. The main issues covered by this convention were as following:
- The abolition of internal border controls
- The definition of procedures for issuing a uniform visa
- The operation of a single database for all members known as SIS – Schengen Information System
- The establishment of a cooperating structure between internal and immigration officers
Less than three years later, at the Amsterdam Intergovernmental Conference, all member states of the EU block had signed the agreement, aside of the United Kingdom and Ireland which chose to opt-out.
The agreements brought to an end the queues waiting to pass the borders from one country to another, that were often a mile long at the time. It also paved the way for the Schengen visa to come into being, which is for the non-Schengen Area countries.
The Schengen area not only enables 1.3 billion border crossings each year, but also 57 million crossings are goods transported by roads, thus making up €2.8 trillion ($2.5 trillion) each year.
Schengen Area Enlargement
By the time internal borders were removed on March 26, 1995, Spain and Portugal had also joined, followed by Italy and Austria in 1997, Greece in 2000, and Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland in 2001.
In 2007, nine more countries joined the Area (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia). The last to become part of the Agreement were Liechtenstein and Switzerland in 2008.
While 21 of the European Union member states are part of the Schengen Zone, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia—have not yet been admitted to the Schengen area. On the other hand, the Republic of Ireland opted out of the internal borders policy, though they have signed up to certain other parts of the agreement.
Meanwhile the Madeira, Canary Islands and the Azores are listed as special members of the European Union, though they are located outside the European continent. They are also mentioned in the Schengen Area.
Three other states, the Vatican City, San Marino and Monaco have opened their borders, but these countries are not the member of the Schengen Zone either.
Current Schengen Area Countries
Currently the Schengen Area consists of 26 member states. 22 of the are part of the European Union m and four others that are part of the European Free Trade Association.
Four other EU members, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, are in the process of joining the Area, while five microstates located in the old continent keep open borders with at least one Schengen state, despite not being part of the agreement.
Schengen Visa Policy
Among others, the Schengen agreement has established a common document that permits third-country nationals to enter all Schengen members. A Schengen visa is issued by one of the member states, based on their common rules for issuing short-stay visas.
Moreover, the member states have reached visa-free regime agreements with several countries, which are considered to be of low-risk. Currently, the nationals of more than 60 countries can enter the Schengen territory visa free for stays up top 90 days within a 6-month period.