Phased implementation of Schengen standards
As part of the preparations of the Czech Republic for Schengen, the Schengen acquis was put into practice in two stages: in connection with the entry to the EU and during the preparations for meeting the remaining regulations conditioning the abolition of border checks and the access to the Schengen Information System (SIS).
By its entry to the EU on 1 May 2004, the Czech Republic already adopted the majority of regulations applicable in the Schengen/EU Member States in the area of security and state border control. Apart from its participation in the common EU visa policy, the Czech Republic started to fulfil the requirements of the Schengen acquis regarding:
- crossing external borders (except for the provisions concerning the Schengen Information System),
- obligations of transport carriers,
- mutual cooperation in criminal matters,
- mutual assistance between police authorities for the purposes of prevention and detection of crime,
- fight against illegal import of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances,
- exchange of information on firearms,
- personal data protection (in listed areas).
Over more than three years of membership in the EU, several of the Schengen standards in these areas had become a routine part of everyday practice of the Czech authorities ensuring security and maintaining public order in the Czech territory.
On 1 September 2007, the Czech Republic gained access to the Schengen Information System (SIS). When abolishing internal border control on 21 December 2007, this „brain" of the Schengen cooperation already formed an integral part of the everyday practice of Czech law enforcement authorities.
The accession to Schengen on 21 December 2007 concluded the process of application of the Schengen acquis. The Czech Republic adopted the remaining part of the Schengen standards directly connected to the abolition of checks at the internal borders. These standards concern e.g. the following areas:
- crossing internal borders,
- short-stay and long-stay visas,
- conditions for the travel and stay of third-country nationals,
- cross-border police cooperation,
- the Schengen Information System (SIS),
- protection of personal data kept in the SIS.
More detailed information on individual fields of the Schengen cooperation are listed bellow:
By entering the EU on 1 May 2004, the Czech Republic became a member of the common EU territory and adopted relevant EU legislation regulating border control. Surrounded by EU countries only, the entire land border of the Czech Republic became the so called temporarily external EU border. In consequence of joining the EU common internal market and the customs union, the Czech Republic stopped conducting checks of goods at the borders with the neighbouring states. The Customs moved their activities inside the country, and controls of imported or exported goods remained in place only at international airports.
- For more information regarding the changes after the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU, see the web pages of the Customs Administration.
Since May 2004, border checks were conducted only by police authorities charged with the control of the Czech borders. Their work consisted mainly in checking travel documents, visas and other documents with respect to the authorization of foreign nationals to enter into or leave the Czech territory, and in the search for missing persons and objects.
At border crossing points with suitable conditions, joint checkpoints were established for the police authorities of the Czech Republic and the neighbouring country. Here, vehicles were stopped only once for a border check. The purpose of this "one stop check" approved by the EU Council was to streamline the flow of EU citizens. These measures aimed to reduce controls of EU citizens (and citizens of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) and differentiate the extent of checks of EU citizens from those of third-country nationals, which are emphasized. The minimum check of EU citizens applied also to family members of EU citizens.
On 21 December 2007, the Police of the Czech Republic stopped carrying out checks along the entire land state border. Border checks carried out at the international airports on internal Schengen flights came to an end three months later. Since 30 March 2008, Police check only persons flying from/to destinations outside the Schengen area.
The current absence of checks at the internal borders enables a practically free movement across the land borders with the neighbouring countries.
The fight against illegal migration and cross-border crime concentrates mainly on the actual territory of the Czech Republic, where measures in the area of search, control, supervision and return of citizens have been intensified. A part of the police officers formerly working at border crossing points is charged with other tasks aimed at strengthening public order and security in the areas near the state borders. The police thus remain operating in the border regions, carrying out activities aimed at maintaining the same level of national security and public order.
- For more information on rules governing movement of persons crossing the control see website of the Ministry of the Interior.
POLICE AND JUDICIAL COOPERATION
The cooperation between police and judicial authorities of the Czech Republic and other states included already prior to the Czech accession to the Schengen area a number of Schengen standards which formed a part of everyday practice.
A part of the Schengen standards was adopted in consequence of the harmonization of the Czech and EU legislation; another part started to be implemented upon an agreement with the neighbouring countries on the basis of bilateral agreements on cooperation.
The police cooperation within the EU in which the Czech Republic fully participated already prior to 21/12/2007 included cooperation on specific operations, in particular on detecting and investigating criminal offences, as well as obtaining, storing, processing and analysing information, or e.g. common police training. An important role in this regard was played by the European Police Office (Europol), which ensures the exchange of information among Member States and carries out analyses related to the fight against international organized crime and terrorism.
Judicial cooperation concerned criminal matters and included mainly mutual assistance among the EU Member States and the surrender of persons upon the European Arrest Warrant. Thus in fact, the Czech Republic already applied a vast majority of EU/Schengen regulations in the justice area prior to 21/12/2007.
Intensive cooperation with the neighbouring countries is in place. Bilateral agreements on police cooperation allow the police and customs authorities to exchange information; police officers from both sides of the border carry out joint patrols, participate in joint exercises and training courses, exchange security reports on the situation in the border regions, etc. Furthermore, mutual cooperation is facilitated by joint centres where officers of both contracting parties operate together. There were already fully operational joint centres with Germany and Austria prior to Schengen and since December 2007 also with Poland. Other evidence of well-functioning mutual cooperation is the support in emergency and other special situations. For example, during the 2006 World Football Championship, a team of 33 Czech police officers operated in Germany, assisting their German colleagues in ensuring security during this important event.
The abolition of checks at the internal borders has brought a new impulse for further enhancement of police as well as judicial cooperation between the Czech authorities and their colleagues in other Schengen states.
Thanks to Schengen, police and judicial authorities have obtained a new efficient instrument, which forms one of the pillars of the protection of the Schengen area - since 1 September 2007, thus already before the abolition of checks at the internal borders, they have access to the data of the Schengen Information System (SIS). The SIS provides its authorized users with an almost immediate access to alerts in the SIS, to such extent which the Schengen states consider necessary for ensuring a high level of security at their common area. While the police have a direct access to the SIS data, judicial authorities use the SIS database during criminal proceedings via the police authorities.
PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION
The protection of personal data in the Czech Republic is governed particularly by the Personal Data Protection Act, but certain issues related to the processing of data in the context of Schengen cooperation are regulated by other legislation (e.g. Act on the Police of the Czech Republic, Act on the Stay of Foreigners in the Territory of the Czech Republic, Asylum Act, Act on the Customs Administration of the Czech Republic etc.)
An independent supervisory authority of the Czech Republic which is authorized to check the processing of personal data, including data collected for purposes relating to the Czech membership in Schengen, and which guarantees that the rights of data subjects are observed is the Office for Personal Data Protection.
Any person (irrespective of his or her nationality) has the right to ask the Office for Personal Data Protection to check the processing of his/her personal data entered in the Schengen Information System (SIS). The concrete procedure to be carried out by the Office with respect to the exercise of this right is stipulated in the Czech legislation. Since the Czech Republic connected to the SIS, the Office for Personal Data Protection has been authorized to examine, upon a request of a data subject (i.e. a person to whom the data relate), if his or her data in the SIS have been processed lawfully, and to notify the requesting person of the results of its enquiry. The handling of such requests is governed in particular by the Personal Data Protection Act and the Code of Administrative Procedure.
One of the duties of the Office for Personal Data Protection is also to cooperate with its counterparts in other Member States. Since the SIS is a system in which all Schengen states enter and search data, such cooperation is necessary to ensure effective exercise of personal data protection (for instance, if the Office, when checking the processing of personal data, detects unlawful processing of data entered to the SIS not by the Czech but Portuguese authorities, it must have the possibility to consult the matter and, if necessary, ask the Portuguese side for cooperation on the check).
- For more information on Office for Personal Data Protection, see the web pages of the Office for Personal Data Protection
- For more information on personal data protection in relation to the SIS, see also the web pages of the Office for Personal Data Protection
- An information leaflet with basic information on the SIS and the rights of individuals can be downloaded HERE (pdf; 224kB)
THE SCHENGEN INFORMATION SYSTEM
According to the original schedule, the Czech Republic was supposed to connect to the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II), since the capacity of the existing system (SIS) did not allow an increase in the number of connected states by as many as the 10 new Member States. The development of SIS II, however, was significantly delayed, and in the middle of 2006, it became clear that SIS II would not be launched at the scheduled time (March 2007). Thus, there was a real danger that checks at the internal borders would not be removed in 2007, but much later.
In this situation, Portugal came up with a proposal enabling the use of the current SIS with the help of the application SISone4all, which was developed by Portugal and provided free of charge to the new Member States. This proposal was approved by the EU Council in December 2006, and all new Member States except for Cyprus joined the project. For these new states including the Czech Republic, the Portuguese initiative meant the preservation of hopes for joining Schengen in 2007. At the same time, however, it was necessary in an extremely short time to build a somewhat different system from the one which had been under development until that time (i.e. the SIS II), which meant also new associated financial costs, until then budgeted only in relation to the SIS II.
The Czech Republic finished its preparations for access to the SIS database through SISone4all and on 1 September 2007 fully connected to the SIS. At the same time, however, preparations for the connection to the SIS II are still under way as the SIS II should, when fully operable, replace the present SIS (according to current estimations, this should happen before the end of 2011). The SIS II will be a more advanced system, adding new categories of alerts/searches for objects as well as new functions (e.g. entering photographs and fingerprints); this will further enhance the functionality of the system and its efficiency in ensuring the area of freedom, security and justice for EU citizens.
By connecting to the SIS, the Czech authorities have gained access to the joint information system of Schengen countries, without which the abolition of checks at the internal borders is unthinkable. Thanks to the SIS, the Czech Republic has broadened its possibilities when conducting:
- search for wanted, missing or undesirable persons,
- search for wanted objects,
- search for and surveillance of persons and objects important for criminal proceedings,
- prevention of the misuse of identity,
- international police and judicial cooperation in investigating and detecting crimes,
- prompt exchange of criminal intelligence.
As in the other Schengen states, also in the Czech Republic the access to SIS data is granted only to relevant authorities which need the SIS for execution of their powers laid down by legal regulations. On 1 September 2007, Czech authorities gained access to data of all Schengen states and have at the same time started inserting data from Czech national databases relevant for ensuring security and public policy. The process of insertion of these so called „historical data" finished prior to the abolition of border checks by migration of data about selected third-country nationals listed in the Czech database of undesirable persons.
Experience regarding the use of the SIS confirms the major benefit of the system and the irreplaceable role it plays in the joint protection of the Schengen area and the ensuring of national security. The importance of the SIS is illustrated by the fact that no country can become a member of the Schengen area unless connected to the SIS. The practical use of the SIS has to be a routine everyday practice at the moment when border checks are removed, and therefore the Czech Republic together with other new states gained access to the SIS four months before the expected date of abolition of border checks at internal borders.
The main benefits of the SIS include in particular:
- access to relevant data of all Schengen states,
- acceleration and higher efficiency of the exchange of information,
- increase in the success rate of searching for persons/objects subject to alerts in the SIS,
- acceleration of the surrender process upon the European Arrest Warrant.
- For more information on SIS II, see the EU web pages
- An information leaflet with basic information on the SIS and the rights of individuals can be downloaded HERE (pdf; 224 kB)
VISA AND CONSULAR COOPERATION
In connection with its entry to the EU, the Czech Republic introduced a number of changes in its visa policy. The most important of these was the adoption of the rules of the common EU visa policy. The Czech Republic fully harmonized the list of countries with a visa requirement with the "black list" of the EU. At the same time, it introduced a number of changes related to the Czech visa issuance procedure or the format of the visa stickers and the manner of their attaching to the travel documents. Since 1 September 2006, the Czech Republic has been issuing travel documents with biometric features.
Since 1998, the Czech Republic has been using its own electronic system of visa issuance. It enables automatic processing of visa applications, sending the requested data on visa applicants for security clearance to the central office through a secured on-line connection, printing the visa on a visa sticker and keeping a registry of all issued visa (or refused applications). This system has remained in place also after the accession of the Czech Republic to Schengen and is supported by the Schengen consultation network VISION, serving for consultations on visa applications among all countries of the Schengen area. Such consultations concern only selected nationalities and are carried out by means of electronic forms when needed. Once the newly created Visa Information System (VIS) will be launched, the VISION consultations will become its part. Therefore, the Czech Republic has been preparing its VISION office along with the national Visa Information System.
By the Czech Republic´s entry into the Schengen area, the Czech diplomatic missions started issuing uniform Schengen visas valid for the entire Schengen area. Any applicant from a third country subject to the visa obligation needs only one visa to travel e.g. from Finland, through the Czech Republic, to Portugal.
At the same time, the Schengen visa fee has unified amounting to €60 for all applicants from third countries except nationals of those countries with which the EU has concluded agreements on visa facilitation (Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia) - the fee for issuing Schengen visa for nationals of these countries is reduced to €35. Certain categories of applicants (e.g. students, researchers or children under 6 years) are issued a visa free of charge.