The Schengen Agreement

The Schengen agreement

One of the prime objectives of European integration is to create a large European economic market. Eliminating internal frontiers is intended to allow goods, capital and services to move about and be exchanged freely. In connection with the fourth freedom, the free movement of persons, the Schengen system (which first was established in the 1980s, and originally developed outside the EU) was integrated into the European Union’s policies with the Amsterdam treaty in 1997. The aim was to facilitate movement of persons within the EU borders, while at the same time maintain border controls at the external borders.

In the middle of the 1950s, the Nordic countries had established a passport union. In order to preserve and expand this system, all the Nordic countries applied to participate in the Schengen co-operation in 1985. The integration of Schengen into the European Union made it necessary for Norway and Iceland, as non-EU members, to negotiate a new agreement. On 18 May 1999, Norway and Iceland signed an agreement with the EU providing for their “participation in the implementation, application and development of the Schengen acquis”. A special institutional arrangement (Comix) was set up to permit Norway and Iceland to participate at all levels, including political (Council), in the work of developing and maintaining the Schengen system.

Since 25 March 2001, Norway and the other Nordic countries have been full members of the Schengen co-operation. This means that the free movement of persons has been introduced throughout all EU countries except the United Kingdom and Ireland and in addition in Iceland and Norway. Internal border controls have been abolished. The Schengen countries now have a common external border. They also have harmonised rules for entry (visitors’ visa) for third country nationals.

To facilitate the necessary controls that go along with internal freedom of movement, the Schengen system provides for “compensatory measures”. The most important of these is the Schengen Information System (SIS). This is a database accessible to authorised persons within the police/border guards and also to some extent at embassies/immigration offices. The SIS contains information about wanted criminals and suspects (for extradition purposes), third country nationals who are to be refused entry to the Schengen Area, missing persons and persons/vehicles for the purposes of discreet surveillance, and more importantly, about stolen and missing objects (vehicles, firearms, bank notes etc.). The purpose of the SIS is to enhance police co-operation. It does not link existing police information databases. The Schengen Joint Supervisory Authority (JSA) ensures compliance with data protection rules. The Norwegian Data Protection Directorate participates in the work of the JSA.

From 1 May 2004, 10 new countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Cyprus and Slovenia became members of the EU. The ten new member  states hvae not automatically become full – operational – members of the Schengen co-operation. Membership of the Schengen co-operation is a process in two steps. During the accession negotiations the new member states accepted the Schengen acquis. For the internal border controls to be lifted there has to be a separate verification and a specific Council decision. This procedure is similar to what happened when the Nordic countries became full members of Schengen. Furthermore, the present SIS-database has limited capacity. A new system, SIS II, should be in place by 2007.

The Schengen-cooperation: Visa policy and border control

At the very core of the Schengen co-operation is the common visa policy (3 months tourist visa) and the joint set of regulations concerning border control. Amongst the key rules adopted by Schengen countries are:

– removal of checks on persons at common EU internal borders;
– common set of rules applying to people crossing EU external frontiers, regardless of the EU country in which that external frontier is situated;
– separation at air terminals and, where possible, at seaports of people travelling within the Schengen area from those arriving from countries outside the Schengen area;
– harmonisation of the rules regarding conditions of entry and visas for short stays;
– coordination between administrations on surveillance of borders (liaison officers, harmonisation of instructions and staff training);
– definition of the role of carriers in the fight against illegal immigration;
– enhanced police cooperation (including the rights of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit); strengthening of judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of the enforcement of criminal judgments;
– creation of the Schengen information system (SIS)

Much has been done in the last years in improving the security of travel documents. In the coming years, all Schengen states will start issuing passports with biometric identifiers (fingerprints and digital photo) to its citizens. Biometrics will also be added in visa and residence permits for third country nationals.

In the beginning of January 2005, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a regulation which defines the purpose, functionalities and responsibilities of the future EU Visa Information System (VIS), a system for the exchange of visa data between member states. The regulation will also give a mandate to the Commission to set up and operate VIS and to establish the procedures and conditions for the exchange of alphanumeric, photographic and fingerprint data on short-stay applications. The proposal is now on the table of the two EU co-legislators, the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Norway will participate in the discussion on the VIS-proposal and be part of the VIS-database.

Later this year, the Commission will present a proposal on the future SIS II (Schengen Information System). For the new Member States of the European Union to be full operational members of Schengen one prerequisite is that the SIS II is up and running. The present system has a limited capacity. The SIS II will be more sofisticated than the present system, and should become an updated and more useful tool for the police and other border control authorities. As is the case today, the use of the SIS II will be governed by dataprotection rules.
Last year, the Council decided to establish a European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union. The Border Agency will be operational from 1 May 2005, and as its names says it shall be responsible for coordinationg operational cooperation between the Schengen states in the field of management of the external borders. The The responsibility for the control and surveillance of external borders lies with the Member States. The Border Agency will also carry out risk analysis and assist Member States with training of its border guard personell. Norway will be represented in the Border Agency. Norway and Iceland will have an agreement with the Commission on some aspects of our participation in the Agency. These negotiations concerns the non-Schengen relevant aspects of the Agency (and follows from the fact that Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU). 

Norway (and Iceland) have also concluded a number of other agreements with the EU within the area of freedom, security and justice. You will find more about these agreements under ”policy areas / freedom, security and justice”.


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Justus Lipsius, Council of the European UnionPhoto: PAB

Justus LipsiusPhoto: PAB