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Working Document
20th anniversary of the signing of the Schengen agreements - 2 June 2005

Date of release : 02-06-2005

Policy area : Justice and Home Affairs Justice and Home Affairs

Event : 20th anniversary of the Schengen Agreement

Schengen cooperation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The first Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985 by five Member States of the European Communities who wanted to implement the idea of free movement of people.

This principle of free movement, which seems natural to us now, was still a challenge at the beginning of the 1980s. The principle of free movement of goods had been established, but its extension to people posed additional difficulties.

Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands shared the same general approach regarding the extension of the principle of free movement to people: it was to be applied to all citizens with regular residence on their territory, whether they were nationals of Member States or not. In order to accelerate the work in progress within the European Communities, these five states committed themselves to creating a space without borders among themselves when they signed, on 14 June 1985, the agreement, which takes its name from the little village of Schengen, on the Moselle in Luxembourg.

Five years later, on 19 June 1990, the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement was signed. This Convention translated, in addition to the 140 articles, the political declaration proclaimed five years earlier. It heralded the abolition of internal border controls between the signatory states and, in order to reconcile freedom and security, it put into place "compensatory" measures to establish common regulations on visas, rights of asylum and external border controls, improvement of the coordination between police services, customs and the judiciary, and the creation of what is called the key element, a computer system that allowed the sharing of certain information, such as data on the identity of people and the description of goods sought by the authorities - dubbed the Schengen Information System (SIS).

The Schengen Convention came into force on 26 March 1995. On that date, all of the technical and legal conditions necessary for it to function fully had been fulfilled (including the functioning of the Schengen Information System and the implementation of a joint supervisory body in charge of protecting data of a personal nature). Ina first phase, the entry into force was announced among the parties of the Schengen Agreement (the five signatory states of the Convention), plus Spain and Portugal, which joined the Convention on 25 June 1991.

Other Member States of the European Union have also joined the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement: Italy on 27 November 1990, Greece on 6 November 1992, Austria on 28 April 1995, as well as Denmark, Finland and Sweden on 19 December 1996. To these are added, thanks to a cooperation agreement, Norway and Iceland, who are members of the Nordic Passport Union but not part of the European Union.

Thus, in 1997, during the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty, the intergovernmental cooperation implemented by the Schengen Agreement grew to include 13 Member States of the European Union and two associated states. Through a protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam, the decisions adopted since 1985 by the members of the Schengen space and the working structures put into place in the framework of that cooperation, have been integrated into the legal and institutional framework of the EU, within which it benefits from parliamentary and judicial control. The objective of the free movement of persons, part of the Single European Act of 1986, has thus been achieved while guaranteeing democratic parliamentary control and making judicial recourse available to the citizens when their rights are called into question (Court of Justice and/or national jurisdictions, depending on the issue at hand).

Progressively, the entry into force has been proclaimed in all the countries that have joined the Schengen space, as the necessary conditions have been fulfilled. On 25 March 2001, the Schengen space of free movement of people included 15 countries. Before long, on the basis of a bilateral accord reached on 26 October 2004 with the European Union and after a referendum set for 5 June 2005, Switzerland will also be able to join the Schengen space. The expansion of the Schengen space does not stop there, because the ten countries that joined the European Union in 2004 will also apply when the conditions have been met for the Schengen acquis.

There are special provisions for the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark: the United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the Schengen Agreement; they may, with the agreement of the Council of the European Union, participate in whole or in part in the Schengen acquis and participate in its development. Denmark will decide on a case-by-case basis if it is to participate in the development of the acquis, based on international law, and will decide if it is to apply Community law adopted without its participation to its national law.

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is currently operational for 15 states, but it was not designed to function with the many Member States which now make up the European Union, and therefore it has insufficient capacity. A new second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) is being prepared.

Schengen cooperation, created 20 years ago, is an important instrument which continues to develop. It has nevertheless already become, for the citizens of the European Union and third country nationals resident in Europe, synonymous with the space of free movement and greater security.

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This page was last modified on : 02-06-2005

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