5.3.2014 | Von:
Mechthild Baumann

The Development of a European Border Regime

Denkmal der Unterzeichnung des „Schengener Abkommens“ in Schengen (Luxemburg)Monument to the Schengen Agreement of 1985 in Schengen (Luxembourg) (© picture alliance / Romain Fellens)

In the Beginning was Freedom of Movement

In the 1980s, the European Community (at that time it was not yet a "Union") found itself in crisis. Europe-wide, there was a rapid dwindling of the population’s approval of European unification, while the integration simultaneously stagnated. This attitude also caused economic loss in the EC States. Paolo Cecchini, then a member of the Commission, calculated these losses in his report on "the costs of Non-Europe". He listed the economic damages of the EC that were emerging as a result of each national state continuing to work within its own economic system. Altogether, Cecchini estimated the costs to be 4.3 to 6.4 percent of the gross domestic product of the EC Member States. Businesses incurred approximately 8 billion Ecu [1] alone in expenses through border formalities with passport control and internal administrative costs, which equated to two percent of the value of the goods concerned [2]

In order to drive European integration further, the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the then French president, François Mitterrand, decided to complete the existing economic integration through a political component and tackle the "Europe of citizens". Three of the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market (free movement of goods, capital, and services) were already in practice; but an important freedom, the free movement of EU citizens, had not at that point moved past lip service. So in Saarbrücken in 1984, Kohl and Mitterrand decided to abolish passport controls on the German-French borders and to enable the free movement of persons between their countries.

Convinced by the significance of this step, the Benelux States (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg), who had already abolished passport controls between their countries in 1960, indicated their desire to join Germany and France. A year later, in 1985, they signed the well-known "Schengen Agreement" in the small village of Schengen in Luxemburg. In this agreement, the five states agreed to stop passport controls at their common borders. The signatory states of this agreement have been since called the “Schengen states” and over time, the number of Schengen states has increased.


Schengen States 2014

Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland (non-EU member), Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein (non-EU member), Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway (non-EU member), Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (non-EU member)

Freedom of Movement, Only with More Security

No sooner had Kohl and Mitterrand’s decision become known, than the Ministers of the Interior from both countries and their subordinate agencies raised security concerns. They were afraid a security deficit would occur if the police were to stop passport controlling on the German-French border. Every criminal would be able to cross the border with no difficulty. Against this backdrop, the German Minister of the Interior, Friedrich Zimmermann, stressed in 1986:

"I am in agreement with the interior ministers of the EC states and with my colleagues in the federal states that in the interests of security for our citizens, the second step may not be made before the first when it comes to the easing and removal of border controls. In view of the present threat, it is the opinion of all responsible ministers for internal security that the border controls must occasionally be made even stronger."

The interior ministers negotiated that the abolition of passport controls may not be implemented until sufficient measures were undertaken to compensate for the perceived security deficits.

For the implementation of the first Schengen Agreement, Germany, France and the Benelux States concluded the so-called Schengen Convention on 19 June 1990. [3] In this agreement, the main topic was the formalization of the so-called compensatory measures for the reduction of the security deficit which was feared due to the removal of border controls. The compensatory measures put in place included measures on the security of the Schengen external borders, common entry regulations for third-country nationals and the opportunity to fight international criminal activity.

Although only intended to compensate for the freedom of movement within the Schengen area, the Schengen Convention marked the beginning of European immigration control policies, whose development cannot even today be regarded as complete. The core of these compensatory measures was and is, however, the Schengen Information System (SIS). In the Schengen Information System, all data (among other things) is stored for the search of persons, including captured migrants who entered the Schengen area illegally and can be accessed by all police stations Schengen-wide.


Schengen, EC or EU?

Because the European Community (EC) did not succeed in establishing its own passport union in the 1980s, Germany, France and the Benelux States withdrew and concluded an international treaty in Schengen in 1985. An associated implementation agreement (the Schengen Convention) followed in 1990.

Independent from Schengen, the European Community (EC) turned into the European Union (EU) in 1993.

In 1998, the Treaty of Amsterdam assumed the Schengen Agreement and all associated treaties under EU law. Nevertheless, the EU is not the same as Schengen. Some EU countries have not signed the Schengen Agreement (for example the United Kingdom and Ireland) while there are other countries which are Schengen members but do not belong to the EU (for example Norway, Iceland and Switzerland).

The Schengen Dialectic

In 1995, the decision makers of the Schengen signatory states [4] agreed that the requirements for the opening of the internal borders were given. The controls at the common border crossing points were ceased. However, the "green" and "blue" borders continued to be surveilled to compensate for the feared security deficit, at some points even more strongly than before. What began as compensatory measures for the abolition of border controls in the middle of the 1980s developed into a dynamic policy field in the EC. It is the double focus of border policies that makes them so complex. The policies are supposed to both hinder illegal migration and fight criminal activity. In the following, the link to migration controls is primarily addressed.

Two Tendencies: Externalization and Technologization

European border policies developed along two dimensions. Firstly, an externalization can be observed, that is the geographic and functional expansion of the surveilled border areas. Secondly, the "human" factor in the control and surveillance of the borders, that is, personnel controlling the borders, is increasingly complemented with modern technology. Both tendencies are analyzed in the following sections.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Frontex and the EU Border Regime".


Ecu (European Currency Unit) was the calculational predecessor to the euro from 1979 to 1998.
Cecchini (1998, p. 30).
Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the gradual abolition of controls at their common borders. Signed in Schengen, Luxembourg on 13 June 1990.
In the meantime, several states had joined the Schengen Agreement as well: Italy on 27 November 1990, Spain and Portugal on 25 June 1991, Greece on 6 November 1992 and Austria on 1 January 1995.
Creative Commons License

Dieser Text ist unter der Creative Commons Lizenz "CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DE - Namensnennung - Nicht-kommerziell - Keine Bearbeitung 3.0 Deutschland" veröffentlicht. Autor/-in: Mechthild Baumann für bpb.de

Sie dürfen den Text unter Nennung der Lizenz CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DE und des/der Autors/-in teilen.
Urheberrechtliche Angaben zu Bildern / Grafiken / Videos finden sich direkt bei den Abbildungen.



Länderprofile Migration: Daten - Geschichte - Politik

Ein Länderprofil enthält Informationen über Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl sowie Integration in einem bestimmten Land. Diese Informationen bestehen aus: Daten und Statistiken, Geschichtlichen Entwicklungen, Rechtlichen und politischen Maßnahmen, Aktuellen Debatten in den Ländern.

Mehr lesen


Zahlen zu Asyl in Deutschland

Wie viele Menschen suchen in Deutschland Asyl? Woher kommen sie? Wie viele Asylanträge sind erfolgreich? Und wie viele Menschen werden abgeschoben? Wir stellen die wichtigsten Zahlen zum Thema Asyl und Flucht monatlich aktualisiert in einfachen Infografiken dar.

Mehr lesen