Schengen Agreement

June 14th, 1985


Borders Labor & Economy Migrations

On June 14, 1985, an agreement is signed in Schengen, in the tri-border area between Germany, France and Luxembourg, representing the first step in the elimination of border controls between the future states of the EU.

The agreement, which is also referred to as Schengen I, was signed by five of the ten states of the European Community (EC). These included West Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The town of Schengen in Luxembourg was chosen for the fact that, together with the German town of Perl and the French town of Apach, it forms an international crossroads in the heart of Europe. Border controls had already been eliminated in this tri-border region in the year 1969. The basic idea of the agreement was to strengthen Europe’s internal economy and thus to transform the outer borders of individual states into inner borders, across which citizens could freely travel and resettle without having to apply for permission in the form of a visa.

On June 19, 1990, the five original signatory countries signed the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement (Schengen II), thus paving the way for a final implementation. On February 7, 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed [see: Treaty of Maastricht, 1993: Europeanization of German migration policy], which was meant to tie the member states of the EC even more closely together and enable a cooperation in the areas of security, policy, education and justice. A principle of cooperation was also established with regard to asylum and migration policy that was nonetheless primarily focussed on fighting criminality, thus advancing early on a clear policy line in this domain.

Ratified on October 2, 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam mandated that the Schengen Agreement become part of EU law. Thus, any new members of the EU are automatically parties to the Agreement. Several additional states including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have also signed on to the Agreement, despite not belonging to the EU.

While the borders within the EU were opened, control of Europe’s outer borders has been continuously intensified. Non-EU citizens are subjected to stronger requirements in justifying their entry into the EU [see: Strengthening of European border security, 2014]. Refugees and persons seeking asylum originating in so-called third-party states soon will have virtually no legal means of crossing Europe’s outer borders. The phrase “fortress Europe” has frequently been used in this context. Additionally, a Schengen Information System (SIS) was set up within the EU in 1995. Its aim is to regulate and surveil illegal(ized) migration between Schengen states using shared databanks, allowing police from several countries to work together and exchange information.