Schengen - Customs checks  – people checks
Customs checks – people checks

Text of the speech given by Jürg Noth, Head of the Border Guard Corps, at the press conference in Berne, 10 january 2008

«Unfortunately I discover time and again how many misconceptions concerning Schengen still abound, thus we use every opportunity to make clear what Schengen means in practical terms».

Schengen does not herald an open road through Switzerland.

The main aims of Schengen remain unchanged:

  • easing tourist traffic eased by lifting systematic people checks at the border.
  • guaranteeing internal security by increased police and legal cooperation.

Switzerland, by contrast, has a special starting position in the Schengen area: It is not part of the European Customs Union. Due to this fact, customs controls will, as was the case up to now, continue.

Customs must continue to check international goods. Border guards check goods in tourist traffic and back up the customs police, i.e. they are responsible in particular for combating major instances of smuggling via unguarded crossing points. Within the scope of customs police activities, the Border Guard Corps implements more than 150 laws and ordinances throughout Switzerland, such as for example the protection of cultural property and species protection, plant protection or value added tax. These controls remain part of the present and future work.

What does Schengen in that case actually alter for the Border Guard Corps?

Actual external borders in Switzerland will only continue to exist in the international airports. By taking on border police duties at the Basel-Mulhouse EuroAirport, and the Altenrein and Lugano-Agno airports, the Border Guard Corps has extended its border guard commitment and, in agreement with the respective cantons, taken on additional duties.

Under Schengen systematic checks on persons at the internal borders are no longer possible merely due to the fact that a border is crossed. But today already checks such as these are virtually no longer carried out for purely practical reasons. What with many hundreds of accessible crossings and more than 600,000 people coming in to Switzerland on a daily basis this is simply not possible. However, where there is a suspicion of irregularities, controls are allowed in all Schengen countries and at the border as well.

Switzerland possesses two special features compared to all other Schengen countries:

  • the customs border and thereby the goods controls continue to exist.
  • Customs officers and border police are one and the same.

This means that our synergy-rich customs system will be retained and within the scope of customs controls will check the identity of people in future as well.

A customs check remains a customs check even if on the occasion of a customs check involving people for reasons to do with staff safety or in connection with carrying out customs duties, identity papers are examined and queries are activated via the information system. This will not become a people check, it is and remains a customs check.

However, should, within the scope of a customs control, police suspicions become evident then it may turn into a «people check involving an initial suspicion». Independently of a customs control, in the case of an initial suspicion by the police, at any moment a people check may be carried out at the border crossing.

In view of this initial position, the cooperation with the border and «internal» cantons is continuously being optimised. In particular border police duties have been and will be taken over by the cantons in transnational and international rail traffic due to the considerable synergies, without thereby affecting police sovereignty. In this way, border police duties were delegated to the Border Guard Corps in the train stations of Chiasso, Brig, Geneva, Vallorbe, Basel and Schaffhausen, amongst others.


With Schengen a new dimension has been added to the job of the border guard - it has become more varied, more flexible and more demanding.

Working at the border crossing, with mobile units, train controls, train station controls and airport controls all enrich the scope of duties of the border guards. The border guards and thereby the Border Guard Corps will be even more involved in national and international security cooperation. With Schengen, the resources of the Border Guard Corps will be supplemented by the important, international, electronic search facility (SIS). All of our existing infrastructure is being equipped with this system.  The quality of searches and the search density in the border area is thereby considerably improved. Today already the border guard annually hands over approximately 50,000 people to the police who have been arrested for further investigations to be conducted. This is a major step for improving internal security.

New possibilities open up in international cooperation for the Swiss security authorities and thus the Border Guard Corps as well.

The Federal Council has in this regard expressed its interest in cooperating with the EU's border agency Frontex.

Today there is scarcely anything to be got from systematic controls with the high traffic volume.

The Border Guard Corps must operate systematically, based on a combination of domestic and foreign intelligence, operationally linked to national and international security authorities.

What are the consequences of this for the Border Guard Corps?

  • Activities and Border Guard Corps strategies will change little.
  • Border infrastructure will remain.
  • Responsibility for the police forces remains with the cantons.
  • Cooperation with external partners but above all with internal partners, in particular the cantons is to be intensified.
  • Switzerland as a special case due to not being a member of the customs union = goods checks remain. This fact provides many advantages.
  • More security thanks to information (Schengen Information System [SIS]) and corresponding intervention potential (Border Guard Corps).

Further information

The full context is available in: