The Schengen Agreement allows countries to remove their internal borders and allow people to travel without checks from country to country.

The agreement emerged outside the framework of the European Union, and was initially signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1985. This was not a formal European Union agreement; it was between the five governments and did not involve European institutions. It was only at the EU summit in Amsterdam in 1997 that it was decided to bring Schengen under the umbrella of the Union.

Ten other countries – not all EU member states – have since joined them. The UK and Ireland remained outside the agreement due to fears of terrorism. Iceland and Norway signed an agreement with the EU in 1999 to involve them with the development of Schengen.

Implementation has been complicated because member countries have to have a common visa policy, provide for police and judicial cooperation, and link up with a centralised computer system that pools information about cross-border crime – in particular the smuggling of drugs and the arrival of illegal immigrants. The major condition for open frontiers within Schengen is effective controls on the external borders such as Italy and Spain which have vulnerable coastlines.

Parties to the Schengen Agreement
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden

As from 1 May 1999 the Schengen Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam of 2 October 1997 incorporated Schengen cooperation into the framework of the EU. Since 1997 if you have travelled to any EU country by air, you will see immigration divided into EU passport holders and everyone else. The Schengen Agreement is one of the reasons why – for EU citizens and third country nationals living in the EU the Schengen Agreement has resulted in substantially increased freedom of travel and improved safety within the Schengen countries and at their external border.

  • Citizens of countries implementing the Schengen Agreement can cross the internal borders of the implementing countries at any point without checks.
  • Any third-country national with a residence permit valid in one implementing country may travel on a valid passport, without requiring a visa, for up to 90 days per six-month period to other implementing countries.
  • Access by all Schengen countries to the Schengen Information System (SIS) providing personal identity and other data throughout the Schengen area.
  • Close police and judicial cooperation.
  • Joint efforts to combat drug-related crime – thus the reason all trains from Amsterdam get stopped at the border