Areas of Cooperation

For most citizens of the Schengen Area, the most noticeable impact of this agreement on their everyday life is quite negligible. It is only when crossing internal country borders without the need for your identification paperwork (visa, passport, etc.) to be checked that the benefits become noticeable. Schengen citizens may cross between Schengen member states anywhere and at any time. The purpose of the Schengen Agreement is to ensure that all obstacles to the communication infrastructure are removed. As a result, you can pass across member state borders as easily as you pass between cities inside a country; the only difference you may notice upon arrival in another country is special welcome boards or signs in a foreign language. What the Schengen Area does not eliminate are rules about traveling and identification requirements specific to a country. For example, if you are driving a car you still need the correct license to do so. You cannot travel across borders in areas that are private property, and you must still carry a valid ID or passport when you travel. The distinction between the Schengen member states and travelling to non-Schengen countries is simply that there is no need to go through a customs line / border check. Although these measures prove extremely useful for travel and economic exchange, the removal of internal border checks between Schengen member states also raised some concerns about internal security. To preemptively combat these issues, the Schengen member states introduced compensatory legal measures in the Schengen Acquis, and elaborated these measures in further recommendations concerning their proper implementation in practice. Combined, these measures form the Schengen standards, which are binding for all countries involved. A high standard for protection of the Schengen area is guaranteed by detailed regulations specifying the activities of individual countries, including their mutual cooperation, particularly in the following areas:
  • External Border Control
  • Police and Judicial Cooperation
  • Cross Country Surveillance and ‘Hot Pursuit’
  • Visa and Consular Cooperation
  • Personal Data Protection
  • The Schengen Information System
Please see other subsections for more details about the Areas of Schengen Cooperation.

External Border Control

In order to allow for the free movement of persons and goods within the Schengen area, the Schengen Agreement also details the transfer of activities related to border control to the external borders of the Schengen states, i.e. borders with countries not involved in the Schengen cooperation. Currently, the most important piece of EU legislation regulating the cross-border movement of persons is the Schengen Borders Code (SBC), which began being enforced in October 2006. The SBC takes into account the current needs of the Communities regarding external EU border control. It requires that all persons crossing the borders be subject to a minimum check, in order to determine their identity based on their travel documents. Non-Schengen citizens, when entering and leaving the territory of member states, are additionally subjected to a thorough check. The current procedures at external borders of the EU are based on international cooperation. The external border control is a matter of interest not only for the relevant member state at the borders of which checks are conducted, but also for all the member states which have abolished their internal border control. The joint protection of the external borders should assist in combating illegal migration and human trafficking, and prevent any and all threats to internal security, public policy, and international relations of Member States. Within the framework of Schengen cooperation at the EU level, protection of the external borders of the EU member states is of paramount importance for promoting the EU’s agenda on justice and home affairs. The basic level on which the legal and executive regulations are prepared is EU Council working groups consisting of national representatives of all EU/Schengen member states. These working groups meet on a regular basis, providing technical support, and acting as an important agent in harmonizing the legislation of individual member states. The fight against illegal migration and cross-border crime concentrates mainly on the actual territory of the Czech Republic, where measures in the area of search, control, supervision and return of citizens have been intensified. A part of the police officers formerly working at border crossing points are charged with other tasks aimed at strengthening public order and security in the areas near the state borders. The police thus retain operations in the border regions, carrying out activities aimed at maintaining the same level of national security and public order. An important agency in the area of international cooperation for protecting the EU’s external borders is the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU Member States (Frontex). The main tasks of Frontex includes coordination of operational cooperation among member states in the area of external border control, assistance in the professional training of national border guards of the member states, compilation of risk analyses, provision of help to member states under circumstances requiring higher technical and operational assistance at the external borders, and the necessary support in organizing joint return operations. For more information on rules governing movement of persons crossing the external border, please see the website of the Ministry of the Interior.

Police and Judicial Cooperation

Although the entirety of the police and judicial cooperation measures were formally implemented on December 21, 2007, these areas of cooperation had begun being established many years before that, to facilitate a smooth transition into being a full member of the Schengen agreement. Preventing organized crime, trafficking, and illegal migration are priority activities for border police. Due to the lack of internal border checks and common external border, all the appropriate authorities of the Schengen member states closely cooperate to control illegal activity. Police cooperation in the Schengen framework involves five basic areas of activity, including the exchange of liaison officers, exchange of information, harmonization of communication networks, as well as cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit of persons. Under certain circumstances, the policy of ‘hot pursuit’ allows police authorities of one country to continue in their activities in the territory of the neighboring country. This cooperation represents an unprecedented breakthrough to the key area of the execution of a state sovereign power. Important legal instruments of cooperation in criminal matters include the European Arrest Warrant and the surrender of persons serving sentences for criminal charges. Of course, due respect for human rights is always observed, and dual punishment, for instance, is prohibited. The cooperation between different member states authorities can take many forms. Oftentimes cooperation occurs on specific operations, in particular on detecting and investigating criminal offences, as well as obtaining, storing, processing and analyzing information, or e.g. common police training. An important role in this regard is played by the European Police Office (Europol), which ensures the exchange of information among member states and carries out analyses related to the fight against international organized crime and terrorism. Judicial cooperation concerning criminal matters includes –mainly– mutual assistance among the EU member states and the surrender of persons under the European Arrest Warrant. Intensive cooperation with the neighboring countries is in place. Bilateral agreements on police cooperation allow the police and customs authorities to exchange information; police officers from both sides of the border carry out joint patrols, participate in joint exercises and training courses, exchange security reports on the situation in the border regions, etc. Furthermore, joint centres facilitate mutual cooperation where officers of both contracting parties operate together. The Czech Republic has had such centers with Germany, Austria, and Poland even prior to 2007. Other evidence of well-functioning cooperation is the support in emergency and other special situations.

Cross-Country Surveillance and ‘Hot Pursuit’

The countries commit themselves to cooperating and helping each other in preventing and solving crime. This cooperation, however, is limited to requests which are not in the exclusive competence of national judicial authorities or which are not connected with the use of coercive measures by the requested party. Communication between police authorities in these cases is direct. Furthermore, law enforcement officers carrying out cross-border surveillance in the territory of another Schengen state must strictly observe stipulated restrictions. Law enforcement officers of one Schengen member state surveilling a suspect for evidence of complicity in an extraditable criminal offence may continue their surveillance in the sovereign territory of another Schengen state, if that state has pre-authorized cross-border surveillance in response to a request for assistance. Under certain other conditions, officers may continue in the surveillance of a person even if a prior authorization could not be requested for urgent reasons. This exception, however, only applies to specifically listed crimes. Law enforcement officers who pursue in their country a person caught in the act of committing or participating in one of the serious listed crimes have the possibility, under certain stipulated conditions, to continue their pursuit of such a person in the territory of another Schengen state. The pursuit must be justified by urgency reasons and no possibility of prior notification of the relevant state; it must concern a person caught in the act or a fugitive and the offence must be one of the criminal offences listed in Art. 41 par. 4 of the Schengen Implementing Convention. For practical purposes, a methodological manual for cross-border cooperation has been published, which further elaborates the practices and conditions of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit policy. The same rules apply to the pursuit of a person who has previously been apprehended/detained (e.g. an escaped prisoner). In instances of both cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit, certain restrictions must be respected in the other state’s territory (the officers must abide by the law of the state in the territory of which they are active). In particular, they may use their service weapons only for necessary self-defense. Other restrictions concern the possibility to apprehend or arrest the person concerned or entry onto private property. In order to streamline police/customs cooperation and ensure the timely exchange of information, particularly in the border areas, the contracting parties must establish efficient mutual contacts or cooperate through liaison officers and other means. The possibility of the mutual secondment of liaison officers plays a very important role; its purpose is to strengthen and speed up cooperation, particularly through the exchange of information related to police collaboration and legal assistance in criminal matters, or by helping authorities responsible for protecting the external borders. Liaison officers are not authorized, however, to take police measures themselves. They are delegated on a bilateral basis. Judicial cooperation includes both practical collaboration of competent ministries, courts and other authorities during criminal proceedings and the execution of decisions, as well as legislative activity. Legislation mainly ensures extradition rights between member states, the compatibility of other legislation (particularly regarding criminal procedure, coordination of regulations on the jurisdiction of judicial and other investigative, prosecuting, and adjudicating bodies), and coordinate the substantive criminal law concerning organized crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking.

Visa and Consular Cooperation

An instrument facilitating regulation of the influx of persons and eliminating the entry of undesirable persons or persons posing a security risk is the EU common visa policy. This policy is enforced through the entirety of the EU, not solely in Schengen member states, and all Schengen member states are compliant with the policy. The EU dictates visa requirements through two lists of countries; the „black list“ contains countries with a visa requirement for the EU, and the „white list“ includes countries without this requirement. Schengen member states, in addition, have standardized the conditions of short-term stay in their territories. Upon receiving a uniform Schengen visa, its holder may stay and freely move in the Schengen territory for up to 3 months in any half-year from the date of first entry into the Schengen area. Since September 1, 2006, the Czech Republic has been issuing travel documents with biometric features. Issuing long-stay permits or conditions for the acquisition of citizenship have not been standardized, and are instead regulated at the national level of each country. A valid residence permit or national long-stay visa issued by any Schengen state, however, authorizes its holder to move in the entire Schengen territory for up to 3 months during any six-month (half-year) period. On April 5, 2010, new regulations established a Community Code on Visas (known as the Visa Code). This code further specifies the rules for common visa policy and consular practice in the Schengen member states. The Czech Republic is also compliant with the Visa Information System, which acts as a European-wide consult on the issuance of visas, to prevent individuals who have been identified as undesirable and/or a security risk from obtaining a visa from another Schengen country. At the same time, the Schengen visa fee has been standardized (€60) for all applicants from third countries except nationals of the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia. The fee for issuing a Schengen visa for nationals of these countries is €35. Additionally, certain categories of applicants (e.g. students, researchers, or children under 6 years) are issued a visa free of charge. For more information on visa policy and residence permits, please see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic website.

Personal Data Protection

The processing of personal data, i.e. data that refer to particular natural persons, is an integral part of the Schengen cooperation, as sharing certain information (e.g. on persons refused entry in the territory of Schengen countries or stolen vehicles) is necessary for effective ensuring of security in the Schengen area. Due to this cooperation, a large amount of sensitive and/or personal information is transferred among individual member states, and the misuse or loss of which may lead to a significant infringement of personal rights of the individual concerned. Therefore, strict rules regulate the collecting, storing, transmitting or other processing of personal data in connection with Schengen cooperation (both at the international level, rules contained in particular in the Schengen Implementing Convention, and in national legislation of Schengen member states), and independent supervisory bodies are responsible for monitoring their observation. The Personal Data Protection Act primarily governs the rules regarding the protection of personal data in the Czech Republic, but certain issues related to data processing within areas of Schengen cooperation are regulated by other legislation. The Office for Personal Data Protection is an independent supervisory authority of the Czech Republic. This office is authorized to check the processing of personal data, including data collected for purposes relating to the Czech Republic’s Schengen membership, and which guarantees that the rights of data subjects are observed. This Office also cooperates on matters related to data protection and the Schengen Information System (SIS) with other member states. Any person (irrespective of his or her nationality) has the right to ask the Office for Personal Data Protection to check the processing of his/her personal data entered in the Schengen Information System (SIS). The concrete procedure to be carried out by the Office with respect to the exercise of this right is stipulated in the Czech legislation. Since the Czech Republic connected to the SIS, the Office for Personal Data Protection has been authorized to examine, upon a request of a data subject (i.e. a person to whom the data relate), if his or her data in the SIS have been processed lawfully, and to notify the requesting person of the results of its enquiry. The Personal Data Protection Act and the Code of Administrative Procedure govern the handling of such requests. For more information on personal data protection, and/or its relation to the SIS, see the website of the Office for Personal Data Protection.

The Schengen Information System (SIS)

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a joint database used mainly for searching for persons (wanted, missing, undesirable) and objects (cars, registration plates, travel and personal documents, registration documents for cars, bank notes, weapons, etc.) of interest in the Schengen area. All Schengen member states enter data into the SIS directly from their national databases. The SIS is a prerequisite for the abolition of checks at the internal borders. The Czech Republic formally entered the SIS system on September 1, 2007. Since that time, Czech police and judicial authorities have had access, and contributed to, the entirety of the SIS. All law enforcement officers have a level of access to the system analogous to their level of access to their national databases. The SIS responds to the queries in the inquirer’s native language. In this way, it is ensured that searching data from other member states has the same application as a national search. The maximum time between the launch of a search in one country and the moment the alert is accessible to all Schengen countries through the SIS is 120 seconds. Thus, the system contributes significantly to the effectiveness and efficiency of international search, compensating for the abolition of internal border checks. In the Schengen area, the following types of searches are conducted through the SIS. Individual search types are laid down in the relevant articles of the Schengen Implementing Convention as follows:
  • Art. 95 – search for persons for the purposes of surrender/extradition
  • Art. 96 – refusal of entry to a foreign national from a third country
  • Art. 97 – missing persons, persons who need to be placed under police protection
  • Art. 98 – search for the place of residence for judicial purposes – witnesses, summoned persons, persons who are to be served with a criminal judgment
  • Art. 99 – discreet surveillance or specific check of a person or vehicle
  • Art. 100 – search for stolen, lost, misappropriated or invalidated objects or objects needed as evidence in criminal proceedings – motor vehicles, weapons, completed documents, blank documents, and registered bank notes.
Since September 1, 2007, checking the SIS alerts forms a standard part of a thorough external border check (at Czech borders) of those third-country nationals who do not enjoy the Community right of free movement. Checking the SIS is possible, under certain conditions, also with respect to persons enjoying the Community right of free movement (nationals of the EU/Schengen countries, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and their family members). As a part of a minimum check, it is possible to search in relevant databases (including the SIS) for the purposes of checking whether the submitted travel document is not a stolen, misappropriated, lost or invalid travel document. On an irregular basis, i.e. not systematically, it is possible to check persons enjoying the Community right of free movement. This is allowed when the circumstance is to ensure that their presence in the Czech territory (and the Schengen territory) does not present a real, current and sufficiently serious threat to internal security, public policy in the Czech Republic, a threat to public health, and/or international relations. As opposed to other third-country nationals, checking citizens of Schengen member states in the SIS is not done systematically; i.e. it does not concern every person crossing the external Schengen border. In contrast to third-country nationals not enjoying the Community right of free movement, an alert in the SIS or another database does not constitute in itself a reason for refusing entry. Entry may be refused only for reasons of public policy or security, i.e. if their personal behavior poses a real, current and sufficiently serious threat to some of the fundamental interests of the society. Checking the SIS is possible also for the purposes of standard police checks inside the territory of the country. Since September 1, 2007, any person is entitled to request information on the processing of their personal data in the SIS and has the possibility to exercise his/her right of access to the data in the SIS. S/he can address their request directly to the personal data administrator (the Czech Police), and if their request is not satisfied, to the supervisory authority ascertaining the compliance with the Schengen provisions on personal data protection – in the Czech Republic it is the Office for Personal Data Protection.
Autor: Euroskop