Keeping border terms and acronyms straight: Or “what is the Schengen, the EU, EFTA, FTA, EEA?”

Map: European Commission (

Map: European Commission (

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

It is difficult for me to keep all the European acronyms strait, and I thought that perhaps some of you had the same problem. So here is a little primer.

The Schengen (
In a nutshell, the Schengen (signed in 1985 in the small village of Schengen, Luxembourg, and implemented as the Schengen Agreements in 1995) is a group of 26 European countries that have agreed to work together “border free.” For international travelers, this means that once you enter one country and have gone through passport control (for example, flying into Amsterdam from the U.S.) you are able to travel freely between the Schengen countries. For an American that means your visa stamp (Americans don’t need to get a visa ahead of time to travel in Europe for three months) is good in any of these countries.

This agreement is tied into the development of the E.U. (see that section below) but not all countries in the Schengen (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein) are in the E.U., and not all E.U. States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom) are in part of the Schengen Agreement (although Bulgaria and Romania are in the process of joining).

The European Union (
Norway has voted on whether or not to join the E.U. many times, but the general public has always voted against it. Perhaps that is because Norwegians worked so hard to gain independence, or perhaps national pride is so strong that Norwegians don’t want to dance to the beat of a “felles” (group) drummer. But what exactly is the E.U.?
The official website (see link above) describes it as “the free movement of persons … which entitles every E.U. citizen to travel, work, and live in any E.U. country without special formalities.”

The E.U. was formed at the end of World War II as a response to the frustration people had with neighboring countries at war with each other. The thought was that free trade would begin to mend relationships between countries, and so, in 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community began the process of uniting trade and politics between Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In the 1960s these six E.U. countries stopped charging customs duties when trading with each other, and agreed to joint control over food production. Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, with Greece, Spain, and Portugal joining within the next five years.
In 1986 the Single European Act ironed out issues with free-trade across E.U. borders and officially created the “Single Market,” allowing for full freedom of goods, services, people, and money. Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the E.U. in 1995 (the same year the Schengen Agreement was signed). 1995 also brought more freedom as the Euro was adopted as a common currency and young people were able to study freely in different European countries.

A list of all member countries is available at The above EU description has been adapted from text found on this website.

European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was founded in 1960 by Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, to promote closer economic cooperation and free trade in Europe. Soon other countries joined, some staying and some dropping out to join the EU. Today Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland are members. They are not members of the EU, and as I understand it you can be one or the other, but not both.

The Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA)
“The Agreement on the European Economic Area, which entered into force on 1 January 1994, brings together the E.U. Member States and the three EEA EFTA States—Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway—in a single market, referred to as the ‘Internal Market.’”

So if you belong to the E.U. you must also apply to the EEA, which in turn guarantees your country “the four freedoms—the free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital—throughout the 31 EEA States. You can also be a member of the EEA without being a member of the U.S. In addition, the Agreement covers cooperation in research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, and tourism and culture.“
Switzerland is not part of the EEA Agreement, but has a bilateral agreement with the E.U.

Information taken from:

This article is a part of Heidi Håvan Grosch’s column Rønningen Ramblings, which appears a couple times a month in the Norwegian American Weekly.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 29, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.