Understanding the Schengen Agreement: History, Purpose, and Impacts

Understanding the Schengen Agreement: History, Purpose, and Impacts

The Schengen Agreement, a cornerstone of European integration, is a treaty that led to the creation of Europe's Schengen Area, where internal border checks have been abolished. Its genesis, the purposes it serves, and its profound impacts shed light on the complex yet fascinating dynamics of the European Union's integration policy.

History of the Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement was signed on June 14th, 1985, aboard the riverboat "Princess Marie-Astrid" on the river Moselle near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, from which the agreement gets its name. It was initially signed by five out of the ten members of the European Economic Community (EEC), including Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The purpose of the agreement was to gradually eliminate border checks at the signatories' common borders, thus facilitating free movement across these nations.

In 1990, the agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention, which proposed the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. It was this convention that established the Schengen Area and commenced the creation of a single jurisdiction for immigration and asylum.

Over time, the Schengen Agreement was incorporated into the legal framework of the European Union, thus binding all EU member states, except for Ireland and the United Kingdom, which opted out. Four non-EU members - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein - also joined the Schengen Area later, thereby extending the reach of the agreement beyond the EU.

Purpose of the Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement's primary aim was to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, fulfilling one of the EU's fundamental principles. Its broader implications were to facilitate social and economic integration across Europe while strengthening the collective security of its member states.

The Schengen Agreement:

  1. Facilitates Free Movement: The central purpose of the Schengen Agreement is to abolish internal border checks, thereby allowing people to travel freely within the Schengen Area. This freedom of movement has not only facilitated tourism and business but has also enabled cross-border workers and students to commute with ease.
  2. Common Visa Policy: The agreement established a common visa policy, which allows non-EU citizens to travel across the Schengen Area with a single visa, increasing the region's accessibility for tourists and business travelers from around the world.
  3. Ensures Collective Security: While the agreement eliminated internal border controls, it concurrently strengthened external border controls. The establishment of the Schengen Information System (SIS) enabled member states to share information on individuals and goods, thereby enhancing regional security.

What are the benefits of the Schengen Agreement?

The Schengen Agreement confers many strong benefits to assenting nations that make travel between neighboring countries seamless. Here are three primary benefits of participation in the Schengen Zone.

  • Abolition of border checks
  • Passport-free travel between states
  • Unified visa for participating nations

Abolition of Border Checks

The co-signers of the Schengen Agreement primarily consist of contiguous European states on the continent. Without the Schengen Agreement, the border crossing between neighboring countries would require hundreds or thousands of border check stations to process interstate travel.

Travel between participating European states is made easier by the abolition of border checks. Now, travellers can drive from France to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany without any required stops and border checks. Abolishing border checks benefits Schengen Area countries by encouraging travel between nations, thereby inviting more economic and cultural exchanges that uplift Europe.

Passport-Free Travel Between States

Without the border checks to hinder travel between European states, passport requirements for travel between European states have significantly reduced. Travel between European states may not require passports at all. 

Air travel between European states has virtually no restrictions on Schengen Area participating nations; citizens from the Schengen Zone do not need their passports to travel between Schengen states.

Non-EU and non-Schengen Zone countries may still require their passports for their intra-European travels. If you are from a country not included in Schengen Zone countries, you are advised to carry your passport while travelling, even in scenarios with reduced border controls.

Unified Visa for Participating Nations

The Schengen Agreement doesn’t just benefit European citizens from participating countries; foreigners can also see more of Europe thanks to the Schengen Agreement. A key benefit of the Schengen Agreement is its unified visa for travellers to the Schengen Zone.

The Schengen Visa grants approved nationals from outside the Schengen Zone a freer range of access to participating nations. Instead of applying for 27 visas, the Schengen Visa allows access to the 27 countries currently participating in the Schengen Zone. 

Schengen Zone countries at once benefit from increased travel while promoting a safer, more secure migration policy by actively collaborating on travel measures between states.

Impacts of the Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement has had profound and wide-ranging impacts on Europe and beyond:

  1. Economic Impacts: The removal of internal borders has boosted trade among the Schengen countries by allowing goods and services to move freely. The common visa policy has increased tourism, further bolstering the regional economy.
  2. Social Impacts: The Schengen Agreement has also enhanced social integration among member countries. Citizens can study, work, or retire in any Schengen country, promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding among nations.
  3. Security Impacts: While the Schengen Agreement has strengthened collective security through data sharing, critics argue it has also made it easier for criminals and terrorists to cross borders undetected. In response to security concerns, temporary border controls have been reintroduced on several occasions, for instance, during the 2015-2016 European migration crisis.
  4. Political Impacts: The Schengen Agreement has been a key driver of European integration. However, it has also sparked controversies around sovereignty and national security, leading to heated political debates across Europe.

What is the relationship between ETIAS and the Schengen Area?

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is closely related to the Schengen Area. Introduced by the European Union, ETIAS is a visa waiver program expected to become operational in 2025. This program applies to citizens from countries that are visa-exempt for entering the Schengen Area, primarily to enhance security within the region.

Under ETIAS, travelers from visa-exempt countries will need to obtain an electronic travel authorization before visiting the Schengen Area. The application process for this authorisation will be online. Applications will processed with 96 hours along with a decision. Applicants requiring additional processing may be requested to provide additional information. Denied applicants may be required to attend an EU embassy or consulate should they wish to appeal a refused ETIAS application. An approved ETIAS authorisation will be valid for three years or until the end of validity of the travel document registered during the application, whichever comes first.

The ETIAS system aims to identify any potential security or migration risks before individuals arrive at the Schengen borders. In this way, it strengthens the security of the Schengen Area by managing the access of non-EU nationals who are currently exempt from visa requirements.

It is important to note that ETIAS is not a visa, but a requirement for visa-exempt non-EU citizens traveling to the Schengen Area. It works in parallel with the Schengen Agreement's provisions to bolster the area's security while maintaining relatively free movement.


The Schengen Agreement remains a cornerstone of the European Union, reflecting the balance between the benefits of free movement and the challenges of ensuring regional security. As we move further into the 21st century, the Schengen Area continues to adapt to changing circumstances, maintaining its commitment to the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, while evolving to tackle emerging security concerns. The resilience of this agreement is a testament to the power of regional integration and cooperation in the face of myriad complexities.