Romania and Bulgaria will enter the Schengen area in a few months. Twelve years after beginning the process of entering the European free movement zone, and just a few hours before the end this Sunday of the Spanish rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, the States agreed this Saturday to unanimity on the “full integration” of the European Union. two countries to this zone of more than 400 million inhabitants without passport control, which will now increase from 27 to 29 members. The process will, however, take place “gradually” from March. That month, it will be effective at air and sea borders, while land borders will be left for later.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, celebrated a decision that both countries “deserve” for having “worked hard” for this and which, above all, “will make Schengen even stronger”, as she said . X (former Twitter). “It is a day of great pride for Bulgaria and Romania,” he underlined.
The move was made possible after Austria lifted its year-long veto – when the entry into the Schengen area of another candidate country, Croatia, was approved at a meeting of EU Interior Ministers, which became official on January 1. to apprehensions regarding immigration. Vienna, supported at the time by the Netherlands, claimed that irregular immigration, one of the issues on which Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s government takes a very tough stance, remained too high in neighboring countries, particularly in Bulgaria. , to accept a lifting of restrictions. all border controls. And this, even though both states have been members of the EU since 2007 and have been knocking on Schengen’s doors for years.
The change in Austrian opinion came after an “intense negotiation” in recent weeks between Austria, Bulgaria and Romania, with the support of the European Commission and the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU, who called the deal on Saturday “just and historic.”
Internal air and sea border controls will be lifted in March 2024, while a decision on lifting land controls will be taken later.
— Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU (@eu2023es) December 30, 2023
As agreed, the process will begin in March 2024, when internal “air and sea” border controls will be lifted. From there, negotiations will begin between Vienna, Sofia and Bucharest to decide when land borders will also be lifted. The agreement reached is limited to indicating that the three countries undertake to “agree on the date of its lifting in 2024”.
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Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson also welcomed a decision which, she stressed on social media, must now be strengthened to “ensure that free movement by land will also be ensured next year.” . The commissioner, a fervent defender of this measure which has now been taken, promised to continue to “actively support the process of full access” to Schengen in 2024.
The approval of the 27 Community states was expected since, this week, Bulgaria and Romania announced that they had reached an agreement with Austria, which this country also confirmed. At a press conference on Thursday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and Romanian Foreign Minister – and former European Commissioner – Mariya Gabriel explained that they had reached an agreement with Vienna on December 23 for Vienna to lift its veto. Austria had begun to reverse its categorical no after the two countries agreed on measures to strengthen their external border, leading Vienna to propose a gradual entry of the two countries into the Schengen area , in which Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karn called it “Air Schengen”.
Although Romania and Bulgaria are on one of the main routes for illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and people, the European Commission has long said that both countries meet all the conditions to enter the Schengen area. After the vetoes of Austria and the Netherlands were known in December 2022, the European Commissioner for the Interior, Ylva Johansson, publicly expressed her dissatisfaction. “The citizens of Bulgaria and Romania deserve to be fully part of the Schengen area,” he said after the meeting of sector ministers during which the entry of Croatia, as the twentieth member of the EU, in this area of free movement and without travel restrictions has been authorized people, goods, services and capital – the largest in the world – to which Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and the Liechtenstein.
Currently, the external borders of the Schengen area, an agreement signed in 1985 in the Luxembourg city of the same name and entered into force a decade later, extend over 50,000 kilometers. 80% of these borders are maritime and the remaining 20% are land. Within Schengen, there are hundreds of airports and seaports, as well as several land crossing points, covering an area of 4.3 million square kilometers and more than 400 million inhabitants. The 27 participating countries – 29 at the end of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria – apply common rules on the control of external borders, as well as on visas and cooperation between police and judicial services in the penal area.
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