The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 by 5 members of the European Communities: France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This agreement has provided for a gradual mutual abolishment of border controls so that the citizens of these states may move freely inside the territory of the signatories and favourable conditions for the functioning of the internal market may be established. The member states of the Schengen Agreement implement a common visa policy regarding the third states: anyone having been issued a visa of a Schengen state may also travel to all other member states.
Later on the signatories were joined by Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the non-EU members Norway and Island. At the moment Schengen area comprises 15 European states. Ireland and the United Kingdom are the only EU states not to have signed the Schengen Agreement. The Swiss have decided in favour of the Schengen area in the 2004 referendum and the Agreement was thus signed. Switzerland become a de facto member of the Schengen area in the 12-12-2008. Island and Norway enjoys the status of an associate member.
Schengen area today
The countries that joined the EU in 2004 – Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – have adopted the Schengen acquis upon accession to the EU (the Schengen acquis became an integral part of the EU acquis after the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force in 1999). These states will become full members of the Schengen Agreement when they are ready to fulfill the Schengen requirements.
Lithuania’s Membership in the Schengen Area
The Hague Programme (2004), a multi-annual EU programme for strengthening freedom, security and justice, and the European Council Conclusions (June 2006) provided for Lithuania, as well as the other EU members that joined in 2004, to become full members of the Schengen by the end of 2007.
Due to unforeseen technical difficulties a threat had arisen that 10 EU members, despite their preparation, would not be able to join the new generation Schengen information system in time (Cyprus is an exception, since it has not yet implemented the provisions of the Schengen Agreement). This would have meant that Lithuania could not become a full member of the Schengen area. The earliest possible accession date was postponed until June 2008. Such situation was not acceptable to Lithuania and other Schengen candidates.
The difficulties were solved with the help of Portugal that suggested a provisional alternative: to adjust the current Schengen information system so that the new member states would be able to use it, too. The decision was welcomed by the EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs on 5 December 2006, and it was approved by the European Council on 14-15 December 2006.
Lithuania, having successfully adjusted its national information system and completed the preparatory tasks, became member of the Schengen area on 21 December 2007. As a result, the internal land and sea border control was abolished. Air border control was removed in March 2008 in consideration of the newly set flight schedule.