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Two EU states get Schengen access after 13-year bid

Romania and Bulgaria will become part of world’s largest borderless area, with free movement allowed only by air and sea for now

Romania and Bulgaria have reached a political agreement with Austria that will allow them, from March 2024, to join the Schengen Area, though at first only at air and sea borders. Talks on land-border movement will continue next year, the Romanian Interior Ministry said this week.

Both states joined the EU in 2007 and have been trying to enter the border-free Schengen Area (named after the town where the agreement was signed in 1985) since 2011, but have remained outside it due to vetoes by Austria and, previously, the Netherlands.

“After 13 years of waiting, we finally have an agreement on Schengen,” Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said Thursday. He added that the lifting of air and sea borders from March 2024 was “a right won after long negotiations,” noting that Bucharest would continue its efforts to obtain the full privileges afforded within the Schengen Area.


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File photo: A cafe named Schengen in Bucharest, Romania, 22 October 2013.
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Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov also confirmed the deal, at a press conference on Thursday.

Talks on Romania’s full accession to the borderless zone are expected in the second half of the year, newspaper Adevarul reported on Friday, citing political sources. Prime Minister Denkov has noted, however, that it was still unclear when exactly Bulgaria would be allowed Schengen movement via border crossings on land.

Austria used concerns about illegal immigration as a reason for opposing the Schengen Area expansion. In early December, however, its Interior Minister Gerhard Karner agreed to ease restrictions on the two states by offering “Air Schengen” as a gradual entry option, Kurier reported. That paper also said that Vienna wanted the border-control agency Frontex’s mission in Bulgaria to be tripled and that the European Commission provide money to strengthen border infrastructure.


The Netherlands has long opposed Bulgaria’s accession to the border-free zone, citing weak national-frontier controls and corruption. A week ago, the Bulgarian foreign ministry announced that Amsterdam had “finally removed all obstacles to Bulgaria’s full entry into Schengen, following a debate in parliament.”

Established in 1985, the Schengen Area now incorporates 27 countries and is the world’s largest borderless zone, allowing millions of people to move freely between them. All of them are EU nations, except for four nations: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Under the Schengen agreement, controls at the borders between signatories were abolished.

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However, some nations, including Austria, opted to reinstate them amid the migrant crisis of 2015, to prevent asylum seekers from entering their territories en masse.


December 29, 2023 at 11:39PM


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