© visit Luxembourg
Undoubtedly best known for the treaty signed there (or the wine), the south-eastern town is now a symbol for a Europe without borders. Now is probably the point to start asking yourself what the Schengen Agreement is all about in the first place.
In 1985, 64 years after the borders of Belgium and Luxembourg (and later the Netherlands) were removed, the Benelux assembled in the small town of Schengen with Germany and France to strengthen the then-European Economic Community's freedom of movement. The location was quite fitting: the town's border includes the tripoint where France, Germany and Luxembourg meet.
Signing the Schengen Agreemen, 14 June 1985: Wim van Eekelen (NL), Robert Goebbels (LU), Catherine Lalumiere (FR), Waldemar Schreckenberger (DE), and Paul de Keersmaeker (BE) / © The European Museum
On the M.S. Princesse Marie-Astrid, representatives of the 5 EEC member states signed Schengen I: they agreed on the abolition of internal borders, and to draft a common visa policy.
Border checks were removed and replaced by guards that visually checked the visas (the green discs) on the vehicles' windscreen, but the main idea was that every vehicle with such a disc could simply drive through. A second convention took place 5 years later, in which a complete elimination of border control was agreed upon - this is known as Schengen II.
Because many officials and the other 5 EEC members were against a border-free zone, the agreement did not get much recognition at the time (not a single head of state was present). Many believed that the 'experiment' would not last, which is why the agreement was not ratified until 1995.
To the critics' surprise, once materialized, Schengen I and II proved to be a significant leap forward. Traffic improved, cultures mingled, travel was made easier.
This was a significant leap forward for the original Schengen signatories, and traffic improved as border patrol queues now were history.
By 1999, most EU countries had joined the Area, except for the U.K. and Ireland (which never joined because it wanted to avoid a hard border to Northern Ireland), and so the rules of Schengen I and II were incorporated into the EU (Treaty of Amsterdam). With this, security systems were introduced at the external borders to increase the security of all citizens and travelers, such as the Visa Information System (VIS) and the Schengen Information System (SIS). Both systems allow for Schengen states to exchange data for law enforcement, including data on suspected criminals, unauthorized occupants, missing individuals, or stolen property.
© European Parliament
Since then, Schengen Area members have temporarily closed borders on several occasions for security measures, such as during the European refugee crisis or the terrorist threats in France. Other than that, travelling, living, and working in other EU member states has become (almost) hassle- and grumpy-patrol-guard-stamp-free for over 400 million EU citizens.
In the past few years, the area has become subject to criticism, blamed for terrorist attacks and the refugee fluxes, but to many (including Goethe), Schengen represents the cradle of freedom without which many of us couldn't imagine the European Union as it is today.