Schengen: enlargement of Europe’s border-free area

Schengen, the EU's passport-free travel area, covers 29 countries. Read on to learn which countries are members and who is likely to join next.

Map of the Schengen area, showcasing current members, EU countries that are not currently a part of it, and a candidate country
Map of the Schengen area

Free movement – the right to live, study, work and retire anywhere in the EU – is possibly the most tangible achievement of European integration. With the establishment of the Schengen area in 1995, checks were abolished at the EU's internal borders.

 

Today, the Schengen area includes most EU countries, except for Ireland, which maintains an opt-out and operates its own common travel area with the UK, as well as Cyprus, which is currently undergoing the evaluation process to assess its readiness to join the area.

 

Four non-EU countries - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein - have also joined the Schengen area.

 

Enlargement of Schengen

 

On 10 November 2022, Parliament backed Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area before the end of 2022. On 1 January 2023, Croatia joined the Schengen area.

In July 2023, Parliament called on the Council to approve Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen zone by the end of 2023. The resolution stressed that both countries have already fulfilled the necessary requirements to be admitted.

On 30 December 2023, EU countries decided unanimously to give the green light for the removal of border controls with Bulgaria and Romania at the EU's internal air and maritime borders as of 31 March 2024. Talks on the lifting of checks at land borders are expected to continue in 2024.

What are the conditions for joining the Schengen area?

  • Countries must take responsibility for controlling the EU’s external borders
  • They must apply a common set of Schengen rules, such as controls of land, sea and air frontiers, as well as the issuing of uniform Schengen visas
  • To ensure a high level of security within the Schengen area, states must cooperate with law enforcement agencies in other Schengen countries
  • They must connect to and use the Schengen Information System (SIS)

Temporary border controls

 

More than 1.25 billion journeys are made within the Schengen area every year. Internal border controls have been abolished within the Schengen Area, but states have retained the right to reinstate temporary controls in case of serious threats to public policy or internal security.

Since 2015, in the wake of the migration crisis, as well as the increase of cross-border terrorist threats, a number of Schengen states reintroduced such controls and even prolonged them on a number of occasions. The Covid-19 pandemic also pushed many EU countries to reintroduce border controls in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

In December 2021, the European Commission proposed an update of the rules governing the Schengen area, aiming to ensure that reintroducing internal border controls remains a measure of last resort and promote the use of alternative measures instead such as targeted police checks and enhanced police cooperation.

After working on the proposal, the European Parliament adopted its position on 20 September 2023 and decided to open negotiations with the Council. MEPs have on several occasions argued against the frequent reintroduction of controls, which hampers the free movement of people across the EU.

Find out more about the issues of the Schengen area and the measures taken to strengthen it


This article was originally published in February 2018, but has been updated several times since then. The latest update took place in January 2024

 

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