The free movement of persons is a fundamental right guaranteed by the EU to its citizens. It entitles every EU citizen to travel, work and live in any EU country without special formalities. Schengen cooperation enhances this freedom by enabling citizens to cross internal borders without being subjected to border checks. The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, as well as to many non-EU nationals, businessmen, tourists or other persons legally present on the EU territory.
Schengen is a town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed in 1985. It took effect in 1995, the first members being: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Now there are 26 Schengen countries – 22 EU members and four non-EU. Those four are: Iceland and Norway (since 2001), Switzerland (since 2008) and Liechtenstein (since 2011).
After the initial seven came Italy and Austria in 1997, Greece in 2000, and the Nordic countries in 2001. Nine more EU countries joined in 2007, after the EU’s eastward enlargement in 2004. They are: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Only six of the 28 EU member states are outside the Schengen zone – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK.
The 13 November 2015 attacks by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Paris, which killed 130 people, as well as the recent attacks of 22 March 2016 in Brussels, where at least 31 people died and 270 were injured, prompted an urgent rethink. There was alarm that killers had so easily slipped into Paris from Belgium, and that some had entered the EU with crowds of migrants via Greece.
And in 2015 the influx of more than a million migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – greatly increased the pressure on Schengen.
One after another, EU states reimposed temporary border controls (Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Germany, France).
In December the European Commission proposed a major amendment to Schengen, expected to become law soon.
Most non-EU travellers have their details checked against police databases at the EU’s external borders. The main change is that the rule will apply to EU citizens as well, who until now had been exempt. Non-EU nationals who have a Schengen visa generally do not have ID checks once they are travelling inside the zone. But since the latest attacks in Paris those checks have become more common.
The Schengen area seems to be threatened by the present events, but the agreement is a fundamental achievement for the European identity and integration policy, so the amendement would not change the basic principle of free movement of persons but will strenghten the checks on non-EU and EU people travelling around countries.
The states reimposing the border control, as well, have adopt this solution as temporary, under the “exceptional circumstances” stated by Article 26 of the Schengen Border Code, but none of the state is claiming an end of Schengen.
Sources: European Commision – Immigration and Home Affairs
BBC News – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13194723
NOS Relocation Team