In an effort to ease the free movement of the citizens of the European Union, land and sea border controls with the new member States (i.e. Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) are being lifted today 21 December 2007 (air borders will follow in March 2008). After it was determined that the nine Schengen candidate countries had met the necessary requirements nothing stood in the way for an enlargement of the Schengen area.
Ceremonies to celebrate this historic event will be held today and tomorrow at the relevant borders.
One may say that this is a further step towards a true growing together of eastern and western parts of Europe, after having been separated for several decades during the past century. In particular, the Schengen enlargement will bring noticeable changes for the individual citizens of the Schengen countries, who no longer will be checked when crossing a border to another Schengen country. A second innovation of the Schengen co-operation is that entry conditions and the conditions for crossing external borders have been harmonized, along with the policy on issuing visas. The German Department for Foreign Affairs has put together an interesting list of the practical changes following from the enlargement; read more here. Also, the EU Council issued an information sheet that summarizes the Schengen co-operation as well as the implications of the current enlargement. Here is a short extract of that sheet, highlighting the most essential dates of the history of the Schengen co-operation:
1985: The Schengen Agreement: the Benelux States, Germany and France sign an agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders. This agreement is signed in the Luxembourg village of Schengen.
1990: The Schengen Convention is signed, implementing the Schengen Agreement of 1985.
1990-1992: Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece sign the Schengen Convention.
1995: The Schengen Convention comes into force, abolishing checks at the internal borders of the Signatory States (Benelux, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal) and creating a single external border where entry checks for the Schengen area are carried out in accordance with a single set of rules. “Compensatory” measures (such as a common visa policy, improved police and judicial cooperation and the Schengen Information System) are put in place. Austria signs the Schengen Convention.
1996: Denmark, Finland and Sweden sign the Schengen Convention. Although they are not in the EU, Iceland and Norway sign the Schengen Convention by virtue of prior agreements between the Nordic countries on the abolition of border controls.
1997/1998: Internal border controls are abolished at the borders with Austria and Italy.
1999: The Treaty of Amsterdam comes into force. The Schengen acquis is integrated into the European Union by means of a Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Protocol also specifies that the United Kingdom and Ireland may take part in all or some of the Schengen arrangements, subject to unanimous approval by the Council.
2000: Controls are abolished at the internal borders with Greece. The United Kingdom’s application for partial participation in Schengen is approved (covering mainly police and judicial cooperation as well as partial participation in the Schengen Information System).
2002: Ireland’s application for partial participation in Schengen is approved (this, too, covering mainly police and judicial cooperation as well as partial participation in the Schengen Information System).