What is Schengen?
Schengen is a small European town. If you look for it on a map, your finger will stop on the Luxembourg territory near the French and German border. Nowadays, Schengen mainly stands for the so-called Schengen area, within which no border checks are conducted at the common internal borders, which thus can be crossed nearly anywhere at any time.
The absence of border checks at the internal borders is compensated for by extensive cooperation and high Schengen standards setting out rules in many areas, including police and judicial cooperation, visa and consular matters, and personal data protection. In terms of security, all these measures should prevent the misuse of the freedom of movement for criminal purposes.
Since 12 December 2008, Schengen is formed by the common territory of 25 countries including:
- 22 EU Members: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden
- 3 non-EU countries: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland
The countries which are fully integrated in the Schengen cooperation are all EU Member States (except for the United Kingdom, Ireland, Romania and Bulgaria) and Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Thus, you can drive through the western part of the European continent, from the southern tip of Spain up to the Baltic Sea, without a single stop.
As to its extent the unprecedently biggest Schengen enlargement took place on 21 December 2007 when the number of Schengen states rose from 15 to 24 states. Schengen area was joined by nine "new" Member States, which were members of the EU from 1 May 2004 - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Border checks between these and „old" Schengen states had been maintained until the EU Council confirmed fulfillment of all requirements and decided on the abolition of checks at the internal borders (borders between Schengen states). All these states (as well as Cyprus as of 1 May 2004 and Bulgaria and Romania as of 1 January 2007) had applied some provisions of the Schengen cooperation already prior their accession to the Schengen area, in particular concerning police and judicial cooperation and checks at the external borders. By joining Schengen, they started the full application of all Schengen regulations (so called Schengen acquis).
On 12 December 2008, another new non-EU state joined the Schengen area: Switzerland. At the same day, Swiss authorities stopped carrying out border checks on persons at its land borders, customs checks on goods have been, however, maintained at the border due to the fact the Switzerland does not form a part of the EU Customs union. Border checks at the international airports on flights within Schengen came to an end on 29 March 2009.