Bucharest, December 28, 2023, The Europe Today: The political agreement will allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen zone by air and sea only, with further negotiations to follow on land borders, the Romanian interior ministry said Wednesday.
Austria had been blocking both countries’ accession to Schengen over concerns it could lead to an influx in irregular migrant arrivals in Europe via the Turkish and Western Balkan routes.
There are 27 countries currently in the Schengen area, 23 of them European Union states, and over 423 million citizens. Romania and Bulgaria had been seeking access for more than a decade.
Welcoming the agreement on social media platform Facebook, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said: “After thirteen years, Romania will finally join Schengen – we have a political agreement.”
“As of next March, Romanians can benefit from the advantages of the Schengen area by air and sea,” he added. “I am also convinced that in 2024 we will close negotiations on land borders.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov confirmed on Thursday that an agreement was reached after “complicated negotiations.”
“After 12 years without much progress on Schengen, today we can congratulate ourselves on this indisputable success of Bulgaria,” Denkov said.
The European Commission had considered both countries to be ready for Schengen accession since 2011, but EU states had blocked an agreement over fears regarding the rule of law and an increase in migration.
Austria was the last member state to partially drop its veto. Up until early December, it continued to argue the Schengen area needed to become “better” before it could become bigger and claimed the EU lacked sufficient resources to effectively patrol the external border.
The Netherlands had previously voiced similar concerns.
Earlier this month, Austria showed signs of compromise with a proposal for partial entry via air only – known as “Air Schengen” – which helped break the deadlock. The move was part of intense negotiations mediated by the Spanish rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
But difficult talks on both eastern European countries’ access to the Schengen passport-free zone by land will continue into the new year.
Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner had requested increased presence for Frontex officers along the Bulgarian-Turkish and Romanian-Serbian borders and more EU funds to protect these borders from irregular migrant surges.
Bulgaria’s prime minister confirmed on Thursday that as part of the upcoming negotiations on joining Schengen by land, the European Commission would provide support to protect the EU’s external borders with Turkey and Serbia.
Both countries are considered popular routes into Europe for asylum seekers.