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The Schengen Agreement

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Citizens of Schengen countries can cross the internal borders of all member states without passport checks. The Schengen visa entitles the holder to visits of up to 90 days every 6 months in the entire Schengen area.

History and development of the Schengen Agreement

Monument in Schengen
Monument in Schengen © picture-alliance/dpa

On 14 June 1985 the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Schengen Agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders. The Agreement is named after the small town in Luxembourg on the border to France and Germany where it was signed.

On 19 June 1990 the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement was signed. Its key points relate to measures designed to create, following the abolition of common border checks, a common area of security and justice. Specifically it is concerned with

  • harmonising provisions relating to entry into and short stays in the Schengen area by non-EU citizens (uniform Schengen visa),
  • asylum matters (determining in which member state an application for asylum may be submitted),
  • measures to combat cross-border drugs-related crime,
  • police cooperation, and
  • cooperation among Schengen states on judicial matters.

The Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement entered into force on 1 September 1993. Its provisions could not take practical effect, however, until the necessary technical and legal prerequisites such as data banks and the relevant data protection authorities were in place. The Convention thus took practical effect on 26 March 1995.

With the entry into force on 1 May 1999 of the Schengen Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam of 2 October 1997, Schengen cooperation – initially based only on an international agreement – was incorporated into EU law.

The European Community thereby assumed responsibility for large parts of the Schengen acquis (the Schengen Agreement and associated body of regulations) and its further development.

For EU member states there are considerable advantages in belonging to the Schengen area. For EU citizens the abolition of checks at the Schengen area’s internal borders means not only greater freedom of movement but also greater security. To compensate for the absence of checks at the Schengen area’s internal borders, better and more effective checks at its external borders have been introduced, as have other measures such as mobile border area patrols and improved police networking. German nationals are however still required to have a valid passport or equivalent document, such as a (provisional) ID card or a travel document used in place of a passport, with them when entering or leaving Germany. Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to 5000 euros.

Since 1985, several other states have joined the Schengen area:

Italy signed the Agreement on 27 November 1990, Spain and Portugal both signed on 25 June 1991, Greece signed on 6 November 1992, Austria on 28 April 1995, and Denmark, Finland and Sweden, along with the non-EU member states Iceland and Norway, all signed the Schengen Agreement on 19 December 1996. Switzerland, which is also not an EU member state, signed the Agreement in 2004. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia all acceded to Schengen on 21 December 2007. The newest member of the Schengen area is Liechtenstein (a non-EU country), which joined in 2011.

Some EU member states – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Croatia – are not yet full members of the Schengen area; border checks are still conducted between these countries and the Schengen area (see below for the position with regard to the United Kingdom and Ireland).

Key points of the Schengen acquis

  1. Citizens of Schengen countries (see below) can cross the Schengen area’s internal borders without undergoing identity checks. Individual states may however still conduct checks at internal borders for a limited period of time if required by considerations of public order or national security. All citizens of Schengen countries are advised to carry a valid passport or ID card, as checks at the border are still possible. The requirement that German nationals carry a valid passport or equivalent document (e.g. ID card) when entering or leaving German territory continues to apply notwithstanding the Agreement.
  2. Persons granted a short-stay visa with no territorial restrictions (category “C” visa) by a Schengen country may, for the duration of the visa’s validity, stay and travel freely in the territory of any other Schengen country. Holders of such visas may also cross the Schengen area’s internal borders without undergoing identity checks. Air passengers with transit visas (category “A” visa) are entitled only to enter the international transit area at airports but not the Schengen area itself.
  3. Third-country nationals with a national residence permit issued by a Schengen country may, for the duration of its validity, travel for up to 90 days per 180-day period to any other Schengen country. This also applies to holders of a national visa (category “D” visa) issued by a Schengen country.
  4. Harmonised visa policies of Schengen countries (common list of third countries whose nationals require or do not require visas).
  5. External border checks according to a common Schengen standard.
  6. Access by all Schengen countries to the Schengen Information System (SIS), which provides data on persons and objects throughout the Schengen area especially in connection with inquiries by police and judicial authorities.
  7. Close police and judicial cooperation.
  8. Joint efforts to combat drug-related crime.
  9. Rules determining competence for asylum procedures, now replaced by Council Regulation (EC) No. 343/2003 of 18 February 2003 (so-called Dublin II Regulation).

Schengen countries

The following is a list of countries which fully implement the Schengen acquis (so-called fully implementing countries), along with details of when border checks were or are due to be abolished:

Overview

Country

Border checks abolished

Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain

26 March 1995

Italy
26 March 1997

Austria

1 December 1997

Greece
26 March 2000

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden

25 March 2001

Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

21 December 2007

Switzerland

12 December 2008 (land borders), 29 March 2009 (air frontiers)

Liechtenstein

19 December 2011

Following the complete abolition of internal border controls anyone holding a uniform Schengen visa may enter any other fully implementing country for up to 90 days per six-month period for the duration of the visa’s validity.

Switzerland

In a vote in June 2005 the Swiss approved the Agreement with the European Union and the European Community on their country’s association with the Schengen acquis. Switzerland has thus applied the provisions of the Schengen Agreement from 12 December 2008. Checks at airports were abolished on 29 March 2009.

Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom

Special arrangements have been made for the EU member states Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

While Denmark fully implements the Schengen acquis, it made a reservation on signing the Schengen Agreement regarding the implementation and application of future decisions taken under the Agreement. It will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in the further development of the acquis under international law and whether to incorporate Community law developed without its participation into its national law. Denmark is, however, bound to implement certain measures relating to the common visa policy.

While Ireland and the United Kingdom are not parties to the Schengen Agreement, they can, with the approval of the EU Council, apply the Schengen acquis in whole or in part and participate in its further development. They do not issue Schengen visas and apply the Schengen Agreement only in part. The EU Council has approved an application by both countries to participate in the enhanced cooperation between police and judicial authorities in criminal justice matters, the fight against drug-related crime and the Schengen Information System (SIS). Neither country, however, has abolished border checks.

Iceland and Norway

Although neither Iceland nor Norway are EU member states, both countries fully implement the Schengen acquis on the basis of the Association Agreement they concluded with the EU on 18 May 1999.

They both belong (together with Denmark, Finland and Sweden) to the Nordic Passport Union, which has abolished checks on its members’ common borders. On 1 December 2000 the EU Council decided that the Schengen acquis should take effect in all five countries belonging to the Nordic Passport Union. Since then Iceland and Norway have been fully implementing countries. The regulations relating to the Schengen Information System SIS have been in force since 1 January 2000.

Relations between Iceland and Norway on the one hand and Ireland and the United Kingdom on the other with regard to those areas of the Schengen acquis that apply to Iceland and Norway are governed by an agreement approved by the EU Council on 28 June 1999.

In practice the non-EU members Iceland and Norway participate in Schengen-related work through mixed committees that meet parallel to EU Council working parties. Their meetings are attended by representatives of the governments of EU member states, the Commission and third-country governments. Iceland and Norway thus take part in discussions on the further development of the Schengen acquis but not in any votes taken in this connection.

Andorra and San Marino

While Andorra has not actually signed the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement, it has no checks at its borders with neighbouring countries Spain and France. San Marino has not signed the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement either, but has no checks at the border with its only neighbour, Italy.

Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia

Although they are EU member states, Bulgaria and Romania (accession on 1 January 2007), Cyprus (accession on 1 May 2004) and Croatia (accession on 1 July 2013) implement the Schengen acquis only in part and consequently do not issue Schengen visas.

Certain requirements still need to be met before the Schengen acquis can be fully implemented. These include the introduction of the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the successful conclusion of evaluations determining that the requirements for full implementation have in fact been met. Only once these steps have been completed can the political decision on full implementation of the Agreement and the abolition of border checks be taken.

Selected legal provisions relating to the Schengen Agreement (excerpts)

  1. Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the Gradual Abolition of Checks at their Common Borders: Joint Ministerial Gazette 1986, p. 79 ff.
  2. Convention of 19 June 1990 Implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the Gradual Abolition of Checks at their Common Borders (Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement): Federal Law Gazette II 1993, p. 1013 ff.
  3. Act of 15 July 1993 on the Schengen Agreement of 19 June 1990 on the Gradual Abolition of Checks at the Common Borders: Federal Law Gazette II 1993, p. 1010 ff.
  4. Notification of 20 April 1994 of the Entry into Force of the Convention of 14 June 1985 Implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the Gradual Abolition of Checks at their Common Borders (Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement): Federal Law Gazette II 1994, p. 631 ff.
  5. Treaty of Amsterdam of 2 October 1997: Federal Law Gazette II 1998, p. 386.
  6. Schengen Borders Code (Regulation (EC) No. 562/2006 of 15 March 2006), in effect since 13 October 2006.

The Second Generation Schengen Information System II (SIS II)

SIS II is an information system that enables the law enforcement agencies and administrative bodies of the Schengen states to exchange information and thus perform certain activities. The EU agencies Europol and Eurojust also have limited access to the system.


The Schengen states are currently collecting information from two main areas in SIS II:

  • Alerts on third-country nationals for the purpose of refusing their entry into or stay in the Schengen area on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 of 20 December 2006; 
  • Alerts on missing persons and on persons or objects related to criminal offences for the purposes of police and judicial cooperation on the basis of Council Decision 2007/533/JHA of 12 June 2007. 

If your personal data is stored in the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), you have the right to request access to that data and to make sure that it is accurate and lawfully entered, or, if not, to request correction or deletion. You may exercise this right in all states in which SIS II is used, regardless of which member state issued the alert.


The competent authorities must respond to requests for information as soon as possible and no more than 60 days after the date of the request. They must respond to requests for correction or deletion as soon as possible and no more than three months after the date of the request, informing the person what action they have taken. If national regulations provide for shorter response times, those shorter times apply. Germany does not have any shorter response times.


Right to request information
The procedure for requesting information is based on national regulations.


In Germany, it is Division ZV 34 of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) which provides information about whether data is in fact stored in SIS II and which authority is responsible for correcting or deleting such data.


Contact details:


Federal Criminal Police Office – Bundeskriminalamt
ZV34 - Petenten
65173 Wiesbaden
Germany
Email: petenten@bka.bund.de


If a request for information concerns an alert that was not entered by a German authority, the BKA first has to transmit the request to the member state which entered the alert in SIS II. Only once this state has had an opportunity to comment on the disclosure of the data to the applicant is the BKA entitled to provide information concerning the data or to refuse to provide such information.


Information must be provided unless:

  • keeping it confidential is indispensable for the relevant authority to perform its tasks in connection with an alert (e.g. police investigations) 
  • keeping it confidential is necessary for the protection of public security and order, or 
  • the data or the fact that it is stored must be kept confidential on statutory grounds or to protect overriding rights and freedoms of third parties. 

If information is not disclosed or if the applicant doubts the accuracy of the information provided, they may contact the federal data protection supervisory authority. This authority will review the case in detail and will inform the applicant whether their rights have been respected.


Contact details:


Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information – Die Bundesbeauftragte für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit
Husarenstr. 30
53117 Bonn
Germany
Email: poststelle@bfdi.bund.de
Tel.: 0049 (0)228 99 7799 0


Right to correction and deletion of data
If personal data in SIS II is incorrect or incomplete, the person concerned has a right to have it corrected. If personal data is unlawfully stored in SIS II, the person concerned has a right to have it deleted. If the relevant alert was created by an authority from another state, only that state may correct or delete the data. The competent authorities in Germany help process the request by exchanging information and carrying out the necessary checks.


The application should be made directly to the agency which created the alert. SIRENE Germany (based in the BKA in Wiesbaden) will tell you which this is. Reasons should be given for the request and all relevant information enclosed.


Legal redress
Legal redress is provided in accordance with national law. In Germany, applicants must first file a complaint with the authority they had contacted about the data. This authority thereupon reviews its original decision to determine whether it should be changed, thereby providing relief itself. If it abides by its original decision and continues to refuse to provide information or to correct or delete data, the complainant may file an action with the competent administrative court to compel the authority to grant the request.
Applicants in Germany may also take their complaints to the competent data protection supervisory authority at any stage. This authority will review the case in detail and will inform the applicant whether their rights have been respected. If an alert issued by a federal agency is in question, applicants should contact the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (contact details above). If the alert was created by a Land (federal state) authority, you should contact the data protection authority of that Land.


If the complaint raises issues affecting two or more countries, the relevant national data protection authorities will cooperate to guarantee the affected person’s rights.


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