Celebrating 25 years of the Schengen Area

birthday schengen area

This March marks the 25th anniversary of the borderless Schengen Area. The agreement was designed in 1985,finally came into effect on 26th March 1995, and has since been of great benefit to Schengen residents as well as travellers across the globe.

The Schengen Agreement was originally signed by just 5 countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, but quickly grew to encompass 26 European nations, including the majority of, but not all, members of the European Union (EU).

Since its formation, the Schengen Area has played a fundamental role in enabling freedom of movement across much of Europe.

This article takes a look at key dates leading up to its formation and what the future holds for the Schengen Area.

Why is it called the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area gets its name from the town in Luxembourg where the original treaty was signed.

In 1985, politicians from the 5 original members of the agreement gathered in the small municipality of Schengen to sign the contract which would pave the way for unrestricted travel in the coming years.

The town of Schengen is now home to the European Museum which was opened in 2010 in celebration of 25 years of the Schengen Treaty. The museum includes photographs documenting the signing of the agreement plus sound and video footage.

The history of the Schengen Area

The Schengen Area as we know it today may not have been established until 1995, but the events leading up to its foundation were essential in shaping relations between the countries involved, and the wider world.

Here is a brief timeline of key dates from the signing of the original treaty to the establishment of the Schengen Area:

  • 14th June 1985: Signing of the Schengen Agreement by Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
  • 19th June 1990: the Schengen Convention proposes the removal of internal borders and a common visa policy throughout the Schengen Area.
  • 26th March 1995: The Schengen Agreement and convention are enacted by some of the signatories: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.

Since 1995, the Schengen Area has experienced significant expansion. Towards the end of 1997, Italy and Austria began the process of eliminating borders, followed by Greece in 2000 and Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland in 2001.

The last major enlargement of the zone took place in 2007 with land and sea borders being abolished by:

  • The Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia

The number of Schengen Area countries now stands at 26.

Why was the Schengen Area created?

The Schengen Area was formed to simplify travel and promote freedom of movement by abolishing internal borders.

The formation of the Schengen Area has meant that people of all nationalities can go from one country to another without being subject to border checks.

Not only is this of great advantage for citizens of the 26 states to have signed the treaty, but people from outside the area also.

Once a non-European national has crossed the border into a Schengen state, they are able to travel from country to country without facing additional checks.

The future of the Schengen Area

Twenty-five years since its formation, the Schengen Area is continuing to evolve and adapt to changing demands.

Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania are in the process of joining the Schengen Area.

Following approval by The European Commission in 2019, Croatia is close to joining the Schengen Area. Once the EU nation satisfactorily meets all the criteria for full membership, it will become the 27th member.

There have also been suggestions that Gibraltar could join the Schengen Area after Brexit.

How ETIAS will increase security across the Schengen countries

Perhaps the biggest upcoming development is the implementation of the ETIAS visa waiver, to be launched towards the end of 2022.

Currently, citizens of 60 nations are able to stay in the Schengen zone visa-free for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. However, calls for increased security have led to the development of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

Once launched, all passport holders from current visa-exempt nations will be required to register with ETIAS before departing for a European Schengen Area nation.

The program will allow such visitors to continue to enjoy visa-free privileges, by simply filling out an online application for ETIAS in order to be granted access.

The pre-screening process will check traveller data against several security databases, preventing potentially dangerous individuals from entering the Schengen Area legally.

Thanks to the lack of internal borders within the Schengen Area, the same ETIAS can be used to travel between the different countries.

By complementing the current visa liberalisation policy, ETIAS will create a safer and more secure Schengen Area for all.