When France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, they envisioned a system in which people and goods could move from one country to another without barriers. This vision was largely realized: Since its implementation in 1995, the Schengen Agreement eliminated border controls between its signatories and created a common visa policy for 26 countries.
The treaty was a key step in the creation of a federal Europe. By eliminating border controls, member states gave up a basic element of national sovereignty. The agreement also required a significant degree of trust among its signatories, because it put the responsibility for checking foreigners’ identities and baggage on the country of first entry into the Schengen area. Once people have entered a Schengen country, they can move freely across most of Europe without facing any additional controls.
The Schengen Agreement was implemented in the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War and the prospect of permanent economic prosperity led EU members to give up national sovereignty in many sensitive areas. The creation of the eurozone is probably the most representative agreement of the period. But several things have changed in Europe since then, and member states are beginning to question many of the decisions that were made during the preceding years of optimism.