SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?
A French police officer checks a man's passport and identification papers at a border post on the French-Spanish border(Photo by IROZ GAIZKA / AFP)

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

How to travel dirt-cheap in Sweden this summer

If you want to tour Sweden's countryside this summer, one of the cheapest and greenest ways to do it is by taking advantage of one of the special summer tickets sold by regional travel companies.

How to travel dirt-cheap in Sweden this summer

For adults, the best deals are those offered in Skåne, Halland, and Blekinge in southern Sweden. Holders of these regions’ summer tickets can travel unlimited on public transport from the start of June until mid-August, for just over 700 kronor for each region. 

Västra Götaland, Uppsala, and Kalmar also offer summer cards for adults, but they are fairly stingy in comparison. 

Stockholm, and the nearby regions of Sörmland and Västmanland, also offer summer tickets, but only for those under the age of 19. 

Here’s the low down on what’s on offer: 

Stockholm 

SL, Stockholm’s regional traffic operator, is this year giving out cards to anyone born between 2004 and 2010, which gives them free travel on SL’s trains, buses and underground throughout the school summer holidays. 

The cards, which will be sent out to young people’s addresses in the last week of May or the first week of June, are valid until August 31st. 

Brothers and sisters of those with cards can travel with them, so long as they are under the age of seven. The cards are not valid on ferries out to the Stockholm archipelago run by Waxholmsbolaget. 

Sadly, SL has no special summer offers for those born before 2004. 

Gothenburg

Västtrafik, which operates trains, buses and boats in Västra Götaland, the region around Gothenburg, offers a one-month summer card, which gives holders access to all train, bus and ferry traffic in the region and also in Kungsbacka municipality (which is in Halland, despite being a suburb of Gothenburg). 

You can buy the ticket between June 15th and July 31st, and it costs 815 kronor for adults and 610 kronor for a youth ticket. 

Västtrafik says that the ticket gives access to “three zones for the price of one”. 

Skåne

Skåne has arguably the best deal in Sweden, perhaps influenced by the generous summer tickets available across the Öresund in Denmark

This year’s ticket is valid from June 15th to August 15th, costs 749 kronor, and can be used on trains and buses operated by Skånetrafiken (but not by SJ) all over the region. 

The ticket will go on sale from June 1st, and can be bought on the Skånetrafiken app, on its website, at a ticket machine at a station, or at one of the company’s travel centres. You can either have a paper ticket, have it loaded onto a Skånekort travel card, or have it on the Skånetrafiken app on your phone. 

Three people can travel on one summer ticket, but only one of them can be over 20. 

The tickets can also be lent out using the app, by simply filling in the telephone number of the person you are lending it to (they need to have the app too). You can lend out your summer card 31 times to a maximum of five people. 

A family enjoying a holiday on Hallö in the Karlshamn Archipelago. Photo: Alexander Hall/Imagebank Sweden

Blekinge 

Next door Blekinge offers a similar sommarbiljett deal to the one in Skåne. For 739 kronor, you can travel on all Blekingetrafiken trains, buses, and ferries from June 13th to August 14th. 

Like Skåne’s card, you can buy the ticket on the Blekingetrafiken app, on their website, at a ticket machine, or at a travel centre. 

The fun thing about Blekinge’s card is that it gives you free travel on the boats that go out to the wonderful Karlskrona, Ronneby, Karlshamn and Solvesborg archipelagos. 

Halland

Halland, also perhaps influenced by Skåne, offers a summer ticket for 715 kronor, which can be bought from June 15th, and is valid from June 15th up until August 15th. Youths get a 40 percent discount, and students a 25 percent discount. 

Like Skåne’s card, the tickets can also be lent out to others using the app. The ticket can also be bought as a plastic card, or loaded onto an existing plastic travel card. 

The tickets are valid on the Öresundståg, Västtågen, and Krösatågen trains within Halland. 

Kalmar has a great castle but a pricey summer ticket. Photo. Emmy Jonsson/imagebank Sweden

Kalmar 

Region Kalmar, to the north of Blekinge, also offers a sommarbiljett although, at 1,680 kronor for an adult, it’s double the price of the summer cards offered by regions to the south. Those between the ages of seven and 25 can pay a slightly more reasonable 1,260 kronor. 

Kalmar’s ticket allows you to travel on all Kalmar Länstrafik’s buses and trains, and also on the Dessi cycle ferry over from Kalmar to the island of Öland. The ticket is also valid on ferries in the Kalmar archipelago. 

Uppsala 

UL, the travel company in Uppsala, offer summer tickets from June 1st until August 31st. The tickets cost 910 kronor for those between the ages of seven and 19, and 1,940 kronor for over-19s. They are valid on all buses in the region, on the Upptåget regional trains, and on SL commuter trains between Uppsala, Knivsta and Arlanda. Anyone over the age of 18, however, has to pay if they end their train journey at Arlanda C. 

You can buy the ticket on the UL app, on their website, at a ticket machine, or at a travel centre. 

Sörmland 

Sörmlandstrafiken is offering a summer ticket to those between the ages of seven and 19, which for 560 kronor, allows free travel on buses only, all around the region. The ticket needs to be loaded onto the gröna resekort, or “green travel card”, which young people have for travel in the region. 

The tickets are valid from June 9th until August 18th, and can be bought from a bus driver, at a Sörmlandstrafiken travel centre, or at shops selling Sörmlandstrafiken travel cards. 

Västmanland

VL, the regional travel company in Västmanland, offers a summer ticket for seven to 19-year-olds. Like the ticket from Sörmland, it is only valid for buses, and it costs 500 kronor. It is valid from June 1st to August 31st but can be purchased from May 16th. 

Örebro 

LT, Örebro’s regional travel company doesn’t offer a special summer card, but is selling 30-day travel cards at half price between June 1st and July 17th. This means that adults can use all the trains and buses in the region for 687 kroner. For youths it is 342 kronor, and for students 550 kronor. 

SHOW COMMENTS