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The areas of Schengen cooperation

The main practical impact of Schengen cooperation on everyday life lies in no obligation to present your identity document when crossing borders between Schengen countries (internal borders). Border checks are not conducted and you may cross the borders anywhere and any time - nevertheless, you still need to carry a valid identity document, i.e. a valid ID card or passport, and respect certain related rules (e.g. restrictions concerning protected landscape areas, restrictions when crossing private property, etc.).

The crossing of state borders is not limited to the opening hours of individual border crossing points. On the contrary, all obstacles on the communication infrastructure are removed. You pass across the borders in the same way as you pass any other place inside the country; similarly, the arrival in the territory of another country is only signalled by special boards or signs in a foreign language.

In order to prevent a negative impact of the removal of checks at the internal borders on the internal security of the commonly shared area, the Schengen states introduced compensatory measures, set out in detail in the appropriate legal regulations (the Schengen acquis) and further elaborated in the recommendations concerning their proper implementation in practice.

A set of these measures forms the Schengen standards, which are binding for all countries involved. A high standard protection of the Schengen area is guaranteed by detail regulations specifying the activities of individual countries, including their mutual cooperation, particularly in the following areas:



 

EXTERNAL BORDER CONTROL

At first sight, the most visible aspect of Schengen cooperation is the abolition of checks at the internal borders and transfer of activities related to border control to the external borders of the Schengen states, i.e. borders with countries not involved in the Schengen cooperation. All persons crossing the borders are subject to a minimum check, aimed to determine their identity upon submitting their travel documents. Third-country nationals, when entering and leaving the territory of the Schengen Member States, are subjected to a thorough control, checking that all conditions for entry to or stay in the common area are met.

At international airports, passengers travelling within the Schengen area are physically separated from those whose flight is bound for or arriving from a country outside Schengen. While passengers cleared for internal Schengen flights need their identity documents only to prove their identity when boarding the plane, for external Schengen flights the procedure remains the same as it was applied before Schengen, i.e. upon receiving a boarding card, passengers must go through a passport control and only subsequently through a security check. Security checks at airports have remained untouched by Schengen and are in place regardless of country of destination.

The current situation and procedures at the external borders of the EU are based on international cooperation. The external border control is a matter of interest not only for the relevant Member State at the borders of which checks are conducted, but for all the Member States which have abolished their internal border control. The joint protection of the external borders should assist in combating illegal migration and trafficking in human beings and prevent any threat to internal security, public policy and international relations of Member States.

An important agency in the area of international cooperation in protecting the EU external borders is the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU Member States (Frontex). The main tasks of the Frontex include coordination of operational cooperation among Member States in the area of external border control, assistance in the professional training of national border guards of the Member States, compilation of risk analyses, provision of help to Member States under circumstances requiring higher technical and operational assistance at the external borders, as well as the necessary support in organizing joint return operations.


For more information on the Frontex, see FRONTEX


Within the framework of Schengen cooperation at the EU level, protection of the external borders of the EU Member States is one of the issues of the area of justice and home affairs. The basic level on which the legal and executive regulations are prepared are the EU Council working groups consisting of national representatives of all EU/Schengen Member States. These working groups meet on a regular basis, providing a technical support and acting as an important agent in harmonizing the legislations of individual Member States.

Currently, the most important piece of EU legislation regulating the cross-border movement of persons is the Schengen Borders Code, which entered in force in October 2006. The modern legal regulation contained in the Code takes into account the current needs of the Communities regarding external EU border control. All persons crossing the borders are subject to a minimum check, in order to determine their identity based on their travel documents. Third-country nationals, when entering and leaving the territory of Member States, are subjected to a thorough check.

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POLICE AND JUDICIAL COOPERATION

Organized crime and illegal migration are not limited by state borders. Therefore, despite no border checks, all the appropriate authorities of the Schengen states closely cooperate. Apart from the exchange of information, mutual cooperation involves e.g. radio communication, establishing joint contact centres, delegating liaison officers to other countries or cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit, which allow police authorities of one country under some conditions to continue in their activities in the territory of the neighbouring country.

Important instruments of mutual cooperation in criminal matters include the European Arrest Warrant or the surrender of persons serving sentences for criminal charges. Of course, due respect for human rights is observed in this context, and dual punishment, for instance, is prohibited.

The countries commit themselves to cooperating and helping each other in preventing and solving crime. This cooperation, however, is limited to requests which are not in the exclusive competence of judicial authorities or which are not connected with the use of coercive measures by the requested party. Communication between police authorities in these cases is direct. It is important that the written information provided by the requested contracting party may be used by the requesting party as evidence in criminal proceedings only with the consent of the competent judicial authority of the requested contracting party.

Police cooperation in the Schengen framework involves five basic areas of activity, including the exchange of liaison officers, exchange of information, harmonization of communication networks, as well as cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit of persons representing an unprecedented breakthrough to the key area of the execution of a state sovereign power.

Law enforcement officers (in individual countries, these may include the police as well as other law enforcement authorities such as the gendarmerie, the customs authorities or even municipal police forces in the broader sense) of one Schengen state keeping under surveillance a person suspected of having participated in an extraditable criminal offence are authorized to continue their surveillance in the sovereign territory of another Schengen state, if the latter has authorized cross-border surveillance in response to a request for assistance made in advance. Under certain other conditions, officers may continue in the surveillance of a person even if a prior authorization could not be requested for urgent reasons. This exception, however, applies only to specifically listed crimes. Officers carrying out cross-border surveillance in the territory of another Schengen state must also strictly observe stipulated restrictions.

Law enforcement officers who pursue in their country a person caught in the act of committing or participating in one of the serious listed crimes have the possibility, under certain stipulated conditions, to continue their pursuit of such a person in the territory of another Schengen state. The same applies to the pursuit of a person who has been apprehended or detained, or an escaped prisoner. The pursuit must be justified by urgency reasons and no possibility of prior notification of the relevant state; it must concern a person caught in the act or a fugitive and the offence must be one of the criminal offences listed in Art. 41 par. 4 of the Schengen Implementing Convention (e.g. murder, rape, trafficking in human beings, illicit transportation of toxic and hazardous waste). For practical purposes, a methodological manual for cross-border cooperation has been published, which further elaborates the practices and conditions of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit.

In both cases, i.e. cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit, however, certain restrictions must be respected in the other state's territory (the officers must abide by the law of the state in the territory of which they are active). In particular, they may use their service weapons only for necessary self-defence. Other restrictions concern the possibility to apprehend or arrest the person concerned or the entry to property which is not open to the public.

In order to streamline police and customs cooperation and mainly ensure timely exchange of information related to cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit of a fugitive person, in particular in the border areas, the contracting parties establish efficient mutual contacts or cooperate through liaison officers and other means.

The possibility of the mutual secondment of liaison officers plays a very important role; its purpose is to strengthen and speed up cooperation, particularly through exchange of information, in responding to requests for police collaboration and legal assistance in criminal matters or by helping authorities responsible for protecting the external borders. Liaison officers are not authorized, however, to take police measures themselves. They are delegated on a bilateral basis.

Judicial cooperation includes both practical collaboration of competent ministries, courts and other authorities during criminal proceedings and the execution of decisions, as well as legislative activity, which should mainly ensure extraditions between Member States, compatibility of other legislation, particularly regarding criminal procedure, coordinate regulations on the jurisdiction of judicial and other investigative, prosecuting and adjudicating bodies, and in particular, coordinate the substantive criminal law concerning organized crime, terrorism and trade in drugs.


VISA AND CONSULAR COOPERATION

An instrument facilitating regulation of the influx of persons and eliminating the entry of undesirable persons or persons posing a security risk, is the visa policy, which is harmonized in the EU framework (i.e. not only among the countries of the Schengen area). The EU has a unified list of countries with a visa requirement for the EU - a "black list". Another list, i.e. " white list" waives this requirement for other countries.

The Schengen states, in addition, harmonized the conditions of short-term stay in their territories. Upon receiving a uniform Schengen visa, its holder may stay and freely move in the Schengen territory for up to 3 months in any half-year from the date of first entry into the Schengen area.

Issuing long-stay permits or conditions for the acquisition of citizenship have not been harmonized, though, and are regulated in the national legislation of each individual country. A valid residence permit or national long-stay visa issued by any Schengen state, however, authorizes its holder to move in the entire Schengen territory - for up to 3 months during six-month period.

On 5 April 2010, new rules entered into effect - the regulation establishing a Community Code on Visas (known as the Visa Code). This code further harmonises and specifies in more detail the rules for common visa policy and consular practice in the Schengen States. Amongst other things, it strengthens the guarantees a visa applicant has if his/her application is denied, adds new categories of visa applicants who pay either no fee or a discounted fee for the processing of their visa application, and the obligation of Member States to issue a multiple entry visa with a longer validity period if all applicable conditions are met.


 


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PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION

The processing of personal data, i.e. data that refer to particular natural persons, is an integral part of the Schengen cooperation, as sharing certain information (e.g. on persons refused entry in the territory of Schengen countries or stolen vehicles) is necessary for effective ensuring of security in the Schengen area. Owing to the fact that a large amount of various kinds of information is transferred among individual Member States, and vast majority of this data is sensitive data the misuse or loss of which may lead to a significant infringement of personal rights of the individual concerned, a great attention is paid within the Schengen area also to personal data protection.

Therefore, strict rules regulate the collecting, storing, transmitting or other processing of personal data in connection with Schengen cooperation (both at the international level, rules contained in particular in the Schengen Implementing Convention, and in national legislation of the Schengen states), and independent supervisory bodies are responsible for monitoring their observation.


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THE SCHENGEN INFORMATION SYSTEM

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a joint database used mainly for searching for persons (wanted, missing, undesirable) and objects (cars, registration plates, travel and personal documents, registration documents for cars, bank notes, weapons, etc.) in the Schengen area. All Schengen Member States enter data in the system directly from their national databases. The SIS is a necessary prerequisite for the abolition of checks at the internal borders.

All law enforcement officers have access to the system analogically to their national databases. The SIS responds to the queries in the inquirer's national language. In this way it is ensured that searching data from other Member States has the same application as national search. The maximum time between the launch of a search in one country and the moment the alert is accessible to all countries through the SIS is 120 seconds. Thus, the system contributes significantly to the effectiveness and efficiency of international search, compensating for the abolition of checks at the internal borders.

In the Schengen area, the following types of searches are conducted through the SIS. Individual types of searches are laid down in the relevant articles of the Schengen Implementing Convention as follows:
- Art. 95 - search for persons for the purposes of surrender/extradition
- Art. 96 - refusal of entry to a foreign national from a third country
- Art. 97 - missing persons, persons who need to be placed under police protection
- Art. 98 - search for the place of residence for judicial purposes - witnesses, summoned persons, persons who are to be served with a criminal judgment
- Art. 99 - discreet surveillance or specific check of a person or vehicle
- Art. 100 - search for stolen, lost, misappropriated or unvalidated objects or objects needed as evidence in criminal proceedings - motor vehicles, weapons, completed documents, blank documents, registered bank notes.