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The History of the Schengen cooperation

Free movement of persons without checks at the common borders. This is the main purpose and mission of the Schengen cooperation. In this respect, it is congruent with one of the main principles of European integration. The Foundation Treaties of the European Communities already declared the aim of developing the internal market as an area without internal borders, ensuring free movement of goods, services, persons and capital.

Despite this, it had taken more than 40 years before this idea of free movement of persons could be put to practice - though at first, it was at a purely intergovernmental basis and only in relation to some EU countries. The beginning of the process of gradual development of an area without checks at the internal borders was connected with a small Luxembourg town, the name of which gradually became a synonym for a whole set of standards related to the protection of the external EU borders.

From the predecessor to Schengen itself

A document which can be considered a predecessor of the Schengen cooperation is the Saarbrücken Agreement of 1984, concluded between the Federal Republic of Germany and France in consequence of the threat of a strike action of European transport operators because of endless queues at the state borders between these countries. The agreement provided for gradual abolition of checks at their common borders and application of the principle of free movement of goods and persons.

Negotiations on similar measures with the Benelux countries one year later (in 1985) led to the signature of the Schengen Agreement between Germany, France and the Benelux countries, in which these countries declared their interest in creating an area of free movement of persons and the abolition of checks at the common, i.e. internal, borders, accompanied by the introduction of effective checks at the external borders. The importance of this Agreement is illustrated by the fact that cooperation on the protection of the common area is nowadays referred to by the word "Schengen" for short, i.e. the name of the town where the agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at common borders was signed in 1985. Five years later, in 1990, all the five countries again confirmed their intentions by signing the Schengen Implementing Convention, which set out in detail all measures related to the abolition of checks and necessary compensatory measures.

Such a fundamental change of the standard regime at the state borders, however, needed a thorough preparation. That is why it had taken another five years before the Schengen cooperation moved from written declarations to practical implementation. The goal strived for over many years was achieved in March 1995, when the obstacles at borders were finally removed, and signs in foreign languages or boards welcoming drivers in the territory of a neighbouring state became the only apparent evidence of having crossed the state border. In the following years, border crossing points were abolished in other European countries.

Schengen is enlarging

With the gradual increase in the number of Schengen countries, the political importance of Schengen cooperation increased as well whereof a clear proof is its transfer from the inter-governmental level and subsequent incorporation into the framework of the European Union in 1999 by means of the Amsterdam Treaty. Since then, there have been a growing number of common legal regulations and other measures related to the protection of the common territory, which form the Schengen acquis.

The incorporation of Schengen to the EU framework was an important milestone in the development of the Schengen cooperation as, by this means, it became also one of the conditions for membership in the EU. Since 1999, therefore, each new Member State must fulfil all the requirements stipulated in the appropriate legal regulations. Similarly to the common Euro currency, the question is not whether but when each new Member State, including the Czech Republic, fully joins the Schengen cooperation and removes checks at the common borders with other Schengen states.

The integration of the Czech Republic and other eight Member States to the Schengen area took place on 21 December 2007, when checks at the land borders of the Czech Republic with the neighbouring countries were be removed (as regards international airports, border checks on internal Schengen flights were abolished on 30 March 2008). The final and legally binding EU Council Decision on abolition of checks at the internal borders was taken at the meeting of the EU Council for Justice and Home Affairs on 6 December 2007. Approving this decision was possible only after the fulfilment of all Schengen standards has been verified and the access to the joint information database had been granted, which forms the "brains" of Schengen and without which the abolition of checks would be unthinkable.

On 12 December 2008 the Schengen area was enlarged by another new state which does not form a part of the EU: Switzerland.