Travel across much of Europe is now largely unrestricted: we can go from the Mediterranean to beyond the Arctic Circle without passport controls or the need for a visa. This freedom of movement exists because of Schengen. To ensure that such mobility is enjoyed securely and legally, the freedom to travel within the Schengen Area is accompanied by heightened protection of external borders and common provisions for the granting of visas.
Schengen forms a common legal framework that governs the rules for entry/departure and short-term stays in the Schengen Area, i.e. the rules on managing the Schengen external borders and on Schengen visas. Citizens from a third (meaning: non-Schengen) country are subject to the same entry requirements, whether they enter the Schengen Area for example by ship in the Netherlands or at an airport in Switzerland or by train in Poland. The area of Schengen cooperation covers most of the EU (22 EU Members States) and the four associated States (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).
In order to adhere to the legislative framework, Schengen States must cooperate with each other on a daily basis in operational and legal matters. The SEM actively participates in such cooperation, e.g. in Schengen working groups at EU level, ensuring that Switzerland's position is taken into consideration. The legislative framework conditions are frequently reworked and adapted so as to tackle emerging challenges or overhaul existing systems. Mobility should be as efficient as possible for border control authorities and travellers alike.
For instance, discussions are currently underway on the future large-scale "Smart Borders" project. "Smart Borders" uses state-of-the-art technology to increase the efficiency of border controls at Schengen external borders and to improve security within the Schengen area. Central to this project is the electronic Entry/Exit System EES. The system will be used to automatically register all third-country nationals entering and leaving the Schengen Area, replacing the current practice of stamping passports. In addition, Schengen Member States will also have the option of introducing a National Facilitation Programme NFP for third-country nationals who travel frequently. Such travellers may be granted "registered traveller" status after pre-vetting, allowing them facilitated border crossing.
In addition, Switzerland has developed a national Integrated Border Management (IBM) strategy within the context of Schengen. Also, and like other Schengen States, Switzerland undergoes the Schengen evaluation on a regular basis.
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