What is the Schengen Agreement?

When preparing for a trip to another European country, you’ve undoubtedly found some reference to the Schengen Agreement, or more specifically to what is known as the Schengen Area, formed by the countries adhering to the agreement. It is a well-known concept, but its implications often aren’t entirely clear. It plays a role in current issues such as international child abduction, so it is worthwhile to accurately understand it.

The purpose of this document, originally signed in 1985, was to gradually eliminate border controls between signatory countries, along with other provisions such as the coordination of visa policies and greater ease of movement for residents in areas near borders. So when we speak of the Schengen Area nowadays, we are referring to the territory that consists of those European countries that have eliminated checkpoints on the borders they share. Whoever has permission to reside or remain in one of these countries has the opportunity to freely cross into any of the others.

The establishment of this agreement is closely linked to the free movement of people in the European Union (EU), since it was designed to reinforce this right. Sometimes these two concepts get confused, but they are different provisions that are not always applied in the same areas.

Originally, the agreement was signed independently from the EU, and although it was incorporated into EU law in 1999, not all member states are part of the Schengen Area: the United Kingdom and Ireland were allowed to remain outside the area, while Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia still don’t meet the conditions to implement the agreement. On the other hand, there are also non-EU countries that have joined the Schengen Area: Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

We mentioned international child abduction as an example of the challenges presented by maintaining this agreement. In recent years, migratory crises and terrorist threats have led to extensive debates in this regard. Several countries have made use of clauses allowing them to reinstate border controls temporarily, for different periods of time depending on the circumstances. It should be noted that in terms of security, there is an important tool at the disposal of signatory countries: the Schengen Information System, which facilitates coordinated action between the various national security forces.

You can always contact ICN LEGAL for advice regarding the implications of the Schengen Agreement, or to arrange to obtain visas that allow access to the area.

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