The Schengen Area
If the idea of taking a trip to a country in mainland Europe without a passport seems ridiculous to us Irish, this is the case for the majority of citizens of Europe. Twenty-two EU Member States participate in the Schengen Area without internal border controls.
So, just what is the Schengen Area? Well, it operates very much like a single state for international travel with border controls for those travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls. In practice that means a traveler can take a train or the motorway from Amsterdam, through Brussels and onto Paris without stopping to have their passport checked. Territories of 22 European countries have implemented the Schengen Agreement which was signed in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, in 1985. For more information detailing the history and background, visit here .
The participating countries are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. In addition, three associated countries currently form part of the Schengen area: Norway, Iceland and Switzerland (the latter joined in December 2008). Ireland and the UK are the only two countries not participating (with Ireland being the only country in the Euro-zone not to do so). For a timeline detailing what country joined when, click here.
Every Member State that joins the Schengen area has to prove that it is ready to take on the responsibility for the control of the external borders of the Union on behalf of the other Member States and for the issuing of Schengen visas. It has to cooperate efficiently with law enforcement agencies in other Member States in order to be able to guarantee a high level of security after border control between the Member States has been abolished.
Key rules adopted by the Member States within the Schengen framework include:
- removal of checks on persons at the internal borders;
- a common set of rules applying to people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States;
- harmonisation of the conditions of entry and of the rules on visas for short stays;
- enhanced police cooperation (including rights of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit);
- stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments;
Ireland, along with the UK, does play some part in all of this. In March 1999, the UK asked to cooperate in some aspects of Schengen, namely police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the fight against drugs and the SIS.
In June 2000, Ireland too asked to take part in some aspects of Schengen, roughly the same as the United Kingdom’s request. Ireland’s request was approved in February 2002.
This is all very well for us Europeans, but what about everyone else? Non-EU travellers who would normally need 22 visas to visit all the Schengen Member States can do this with a single visa. A residence permit issued by a Schengen State replaces the short-term visa normally required for nationals of countries subject to a visa requirement.
If you are a non-EU citizen and you want to visit only one Schengen state, you have to apply at the Embassy of that state. If you want to visit two or more Schengen states, apply at the Embassy of the country which is your main destination, defined by the length of stay or other criteria from that Embassy. If you intend to visit two or more Schengen states but you have no main destination, you need to apply for your visa at the Embassy of the country which you intend to visit first. In general processing will take a minimum of ten working days depending on each individual case. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you lodge your application at least two weeks before the planned journey. The visa handling fee is €60.
Just last week France and Italy issued a joint call to reform the Schengen Agreement. France has accused Italy of abusing the Schengen pact by issuing temporary residence permits and travel documents to migrants fleeing North Africa in the knowledge that many of the French-speaking Tunisians want to go to France.
Surprisingly there isn’t more call for Ireland to join to Agreement. One supporter is MEP Nessa Childers who feels an all-Ireland approach is needed to attract tourism from emerging markets. She said “Due to our common land border, the Republic of Ireland cannot join the Schengen Zone without the UK. However, I believe the Northern Ireland and the Republic should consider joining the zone in order to attract visitors from emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Unless we do so I fear that Ireland is at risk of losing out on this lucrative market.”
Let’s hope that Europe will go on becoming more united and it won’t be too long before geography and red tape allows Ireland to prosper as much as our continental neighbours.
By Tara Gleeson – MGH2