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European Union; Switzerland: Schengen Area Accession

(Jan. 12, 2009) The Schengen acquis (body of law) came into being in 1985 when the governments of Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed an agreement in Schengen, Luxembourg, to establish an area free of internal borders for nationals, goods, and services. In June 1990, the five original signatories signed the Convention that implements the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen acquis was incorporated in the legal framework of the European Union through the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999. (Press Release, RAPID, With the Accession of Switzerland, the Schengen Space Includes Now 25 Countries(Dec. 12, 2008), available at

On December 12, 2008, Switzerland formally joined the Schengen area, following lengthy negotiations initially begun in 2002. Switzerland approved the accession with a referendum held in June 2005; on March 1, 2008, the Schengen/Dublin association agreements with Switzerland entered into force. Under these agreements, as of December 13, 2008, travelers to and from Switzerland who proceed to other Schengen countries will not be subject to passport checks at the Swiss border. However, because Switzerland is not part of the EU customs union, the traffic of goods will still be subject to border checks.

With the accession of Switzerland, the Schengen area comprises 25 countries, extends to 3.6 million square kilometers, and includes 400 million Europeans. The last enlargement of Schengen occurred on December 21, 2007, with the accession of nine new EU Members: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Two other EU Members, the United Kingdom and Ireland, are not participating in the Schengen area. Both have the right to take part in some Schengen measures, with the approval of the Council of the European Union. Thus, for example, the UK and Ireland have requested, and been approved (in May 2000 and February 2002, respectively), to participate in police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the fight against illegal drugs, and the Schengen Information System (SIS). Among the candidate countries that joined the European Union in May 2004, Cyprus and Bulgaria have not yet been approved to participate in the Schengen area. Two non-EU members, Iceland and Norway, have been part of Schengen since 1996; however, their role in decision making is restricted. (Press Release, supra.)