Why you need to know about it:
Recently, you might have been hearing the word “Schengen” thrown around in news broadcasts and on-line blogs. But what is Schengen and why do you need to know about it?
For many years, movement between European countries had been tedious and frustrating. Since there are so many countries, within a small geographical area, people found themselves crossing borders often, and sometimes daily. This led to long waits at rail stations and traffic jams at the borders, as border patrol agents scrutinized passports and visas of people entering their country.
What is the Schengen Agreement?
In June 1985, five countries got together and signed a treaty, which is now referred to as the Schengen Agreement, since it was signed in Schengen, Luxembourg. This treaty was created to promote “Europe without borders.” It allows for the free and unrestricted movement of people, between European countries. Basically, this means that if you are in one country that was part of the agreement and you want to travel into another Schengen country, then you are not required to show your passport or visa to enter.
This benefits Americans and other people around the world, who are not citizens of any of these countries. For example, if you are from the United State, and then travel to France, you will need to show your passport once you arrive in France. However, if you then go from France to Switzerland, you will not be required to show a passport or visa, to be allowed to cross the borders.
Who Belongs to the Schengen Agreement?
Between 1985 and today, there are now 26 members of the Schengen agreement. Current member states include:
- Czech Republic
There are five more countries that are very close to joining this agreement, in the near future.
Is the Schengen Zone and the European Union the same?
For many, getting the Schengen agreement and the European Union (EU) mixed up is understandable. However, there are some countries that are part of the Schengen agreement but not part of the EU; i.e. Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. There are also members of the EU who are not part of the Schengen agreement; i.e. Ireland and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom and Ireland have had an agreement between their two countries for the free movement of people, for many years. Up to this point, neither of these countries has found the need to open their borders to the rest of Europe, without restrictions.
European countries not in the Schengen zone
The European countries that are not part of the Schengen zone are:
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- San Marino
- United Kingdom
- Vatican City
Covid-19 disrupts the Schengen Agreement
In the early months of 2020, Covid-19 appeared around the world, which led to a worldwide pandemic. In an attempt to slow or stop the spread of the virus, all Schengen countries took back control of who came into their countries. The Schengen agreement allows for a temporary reintroduction of border controls in the event of a major threat to public policy or health. This is done only as a last resort.
Since the Schengen agreement allowed easy movement between countries, there are many people who have found themselves stuck, living in one country but working in another. During the pandemic, many essential workers, like doctors and nurses, have mostly been allowed to continue to cross the borders. The balance between keeping people safe within each country and keeping the feeling of solidarity between countries has been a delicate undertaking.
As countries begin to ease the restrictions of movement within their countries, they are beginning to make plans to reopen their borders. Since they already have a treaty in place, with the Schengen agreement, it’s a logical place for them to start. This is an important step that needs to happen before they even consider reopening travel from outside of Europe.
One example of the benefit of being part of the Schengen agreement, when it comes to travelers, comes out of France. Recently, France adopted a compulsory two-week quarantine for travelers that are coming from anywhere outside of the Schengen zone. Schengen countries will be exempt from this mandate, along with Britain. This is set to last until, at least, July 24, 2020. This is great for European countries, but not so good for the rest of the world. But it represents a positive first step in the reopening of international travel.