Europe

Schengen: Controversial EU free movement deal explained

  • 25 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Media captionThe BBC's Chris Morris explains how the Schengen area was created

The Schengen Agreement abolished the EU's internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc.

But the 13 November attacks by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Paris, which killed 130 people, 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.

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 Paris atrocity those checks have become more common.


Which countries have removed internal borders?

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.


Are other countries going to remove border checks too?

Andorra and San Marino are not part of Schengen, but they no longer have checks at their borders.

There is no date yet for Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, or for Bulgaria and Romania (joined in 2007) or Croatia (joined in 2013).


Which EU countries are not in Schengen?

The UK and Republic of Ireland have opted out. The UK wants to maintain its own borders, and Dublin prefers to preserve its free movement arrangement with the UK - called the Common Travel Area - rather than join Schengen.

The UK and Ireland began taking part in some aspects of the Schengen agreement, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), from 2000 and 2002 respectively.

The SIS enables police forces across Europe to share data on law enforcement. It includes data on stolen cars, court proceedings and missing persons.


Why is the migrant crisis undermining Schengen?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hungary - inside Schengen - has proven a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Germany

Germany reimposed controls on its border with Austria, after a record number of migrants travelled to southern Germany from Hungary, via Austria.

The influx of migrants also pushed Austria to restrict road and rail traffic on its border with Hungary.

The migrants entered the EU illegally, without Schengen visas. Hungary became a hotspot as a gateway to the Schengen zone, so it built a fence on its border with Serbia.

The fence was much-criticised in the EU - but Serbia is outside Schengen, so Hungary argued that it was quite justified.

Hungary later erected fences on its borders with EU members Slovenia (in Schengen) and Croatia (not in Schengen).

On 4 January the focus switched to Schengen members Denmark and Sweden.

Denmark stepped up border controls with Germany, hours after Sweden extended identity checks on all travellers to reduce the influx of migrants.

Sweden is now refusing entry to anyone who has no photo identification. It has slowed traffic across the Oresund road-rail bridge.

More than 160,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden last year - the highest per-capita figure in the EU.

In a December speech, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted that free movement under Schengen would be safeguarded and "Schengen is here to stay".

Schengen is often criticised by nationalists and Eurosceptics, such as the French National Front (FN), Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and UK Independence Party. They say it is an open door for migrants and criminals.


When can countries reimpose border controls?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Belgian and French (yellow vest) police began systematic border checks after the Paris attacks

Under the Schengen rules, signatories may reinstate internal border controls for 10 days, if this has to be done immediately for "public policy or national security" reasons.

If the problem continues, the controls can be maintained for "renewable periods" of up to 20 days and for a maximum of two months.

An EU regulation in 2013 specified that such controls "should remain an exception and should only be effected as a measure of last resort, for a strictly limited scope and period of time".

The period for temporary border controls is longer in cases where the threat is considered "foreseeable". The controls can be maintained for renewable periods of up to 30 days, and for a maximum of six months.

But an extension of two years maximum is allowed under Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code, in "exceptional circumstances".

In the Schengen zone currently six states have border controls in place: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Hungary's controls affect two non-Schengen states: Croatia and Serbia. Last October it also imposed temporary controls on the border with Schengen member Slovenia.

In 2005 France reimposed border controls after the bomb attacks by Islamist militants in London.

Austria, Portugal and Germany reimposed border controls for some major sporting events, such as the Fifa World Cup.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption German police are now routinely checking vehicles entering from Austria

What else does Schengen involve?

The main feature is the creation of a single external border, and a single set of rules for policing the border. Among the other measures are:

Common rules on asylum;

Hot pursuit - police have the right to chase suspected criminals across borders;

Separation in airports of people travelling within the Schengen area from other passengers;

Common list of countries whose nationals require visas;

Creation of the Schengen Information System (SIS), which allows police stations and consulates to access a shared database of wanted or undesirable people and stolen objects;

Joint efforts to fight drug-related crime.


How are non-EU citizens affected?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Schengen visa gives non-EU nationals easy access to most of Europe

A Schengen visa is necessary to travel to a Schengen country or within the area. It is a short-stay visa valid for 90 days. It also allows international transit at airports in Schengen countries.

A short-stay visa costs €60 (£44; $68).

But the visa costs €35 for Russians, Ukrainians and citizens of some other countries, under visa facilitation agreements.

The EU has no visa requirement for citizens of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia who have biometric passports. These Balkan nations all hope to join the EU. Kosovo is excluded from the arrangement.

Since the scrapping of visas for travellers from the Western Balkans there has been a surge in asylum applications from that region. Many asylum seekers are Roma (Gypsies), who are often desperately poor, marginalised and victims of discrimination.

Most of the asylum claims are submitted in Germany, which already has well-established diaspora communities from the Balkans.

An EU report says "asylum abuse has continued to afflict the visa-free scheme" and the situation "remains untenable".

Now the EU aims to establish a common list of "safe countries of origin", including the Western Balkans and Turkey. It would help speed up the processing of asylum claims, and give a legal basis for sending many Balkan applicants home. Fewer than 10% of applicants from the region get asylum in the EU.

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