Schengen Agreement, what it is and what happens when it is suspended

What happens at the border when the agreement is suspended?

Italy suspends the Schengen agreement and reinstates border controls on the border with Slovenia. The decision announced by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is linked to security reasons, in the days in which the international scenario is dominated by the war between Israel and Hamas, with the prospect of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Schengen, the agreement and the rules

What is the Schengen Agreement? What does it predict? What does suspension entail? The freedom of movement of people is one of the pillars of the European Union. This is guaranteed by the Schengen acquis, a set of rules and provisions that arise from the intergovernmental cooperation agreement signed in 1985 in Schengen, a village in southern Luxembourg, on the border with France and Germany, on the gradual abolition of border controls. The convention that implemented that agreement dates back to 1990; the rules began to be implemented in 1995, initially between 7 member states. Born as intergovernmental agreements, they were then incorporated into the body of legislation that governs the EU.

Today the Schengen agreements concern 22 EU states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania are outside; the United Kingdom was and still is outside the Schengen area); Bulgaria and Romania have the technical requirements to join, but have not yet entered the free movement area, which also includes some non-EU states, such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Practically, The Schengen area is an area in which EU citizens enjoy freedom of movement between the states that are part of it, without being subjected to border controls: every day 3.5 million people, on average, cross an internal border into the EU. This is a freedom that has limits: all EU citizens can travel to another EU country for tourism for a period of up to three months, simply by having a valid passport or identity card.

All EU citizens can live in another country in the area for work, under local laws, with the right to be treated in the same way as citizens of that country. Entrepreneurs can open businesses in other EU countries and students can study anywhere in the Union. According to Commission estimates, closing the internal borders of the Schengen area would cost between 100 and 230 billion euros over 10 years, preventing 1.7 million people from commuting across borders.

Schengen, there are no more borders

The Schengen rules have abolished internal border controls: once you have entered the area, you can move between one country and another without being subject to border controls. However, police checks are possible, and are often carried out, i.e. not systematic but targeted (for example, the officer can ask to identify himself and ask questions about the purpose of the trip). There are exceptions: freedom of movement can be suspended by a Member State, exceptionally and temporarily, in the face of a “serious” threat.

Border controls reintroduced exceptionally should be reduced to the minimum necessary to address the threat and their duration is, in theory, limited to a maximum of six months. In practice, things often work out differently.

How many times has the agreement been suspended

The Schengen treaty has been suspended by the member countries of the European Union 387 times from 2006 to today. Italy had done it other times for major events: the last time on the occasion of the G20 in 2021 but also in 2017 for the G7 in Taormina and in 2009 for the G8 in L’Aquila. It is therefore the first time that it has adopted such a decision for security reasons linked to the increased level of threat of violent actions also within the Union. In recent days, border controls had already been reintroduced by Austria on the border with the Czech Republic and by Germany on the border with Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Poland due to strong migratory pressure.