Abstract: Each of the successive arrangements on abolition of controls at the internal borders in Europe provided for the possibility of temporary reinstatement of border controls. The actual use of this power may tell us about the functions of border controls. This article analyses on which occasions the governments of the Schengen states did actually use this power after 1995, and what is known about the effects of those temporary controls. It appears that the actual use varied considerably in time and between the Member States. In most cases the temporary controls aimed not at reducing illegal immigration or preventing serious crimes, but at the protection of meetings of political leaders. The individuals checked or stopped at the borders are predominantly union citizens, not third-country nationals. It is contended that the controls at land borders are not considered as an effective instrument of crime or immigration control. They may have a highly symbolic function: showing the public that the state is protecting its citizens against undesired events.