Romania and Bulgaria join Schengen Area

Romania and Bulgaria Achieve Landmark Integration with EU Schengen Area

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Romania and Bulgaria join Schengen Area

The two countries joined the Schengen area’s air and sea zones this Sunday after a 13-year long wait.

BREAKING NEWS

BUCHAREST/SOFIA/BRUSSELS—In a historic step forward for European integration, Romania and Bulgaria officially joined the EU Schengen area for air and sea travel today. This marks a significant milestone in their journey within the European Union, removing border controls for citizens and businesses travelling by air or sea between these nations and other Schengen member states.

The Schengen area, comprising 29 countries, eliminates passport checks and other border controls across internal borders. Citizens of Schengen countries and many business and leisure travellers can move freely throughout the zone.

Years in the Making

Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area has been a long-awaited goal, with both countries meeting the technical requirements for membership as far back as 2011. However, previous objections from within the EU blocked their full inclusion.

Partial Accession

Today’s entry into the Schengen system is only partial. Austria has vetoed the inclusion of land borders over concerns about undocumented migration. Romania and Bulgaria maintain they have taken robust measures to secure their borders, and hope to achieve full Schengen membership, including land routes, by the end of 2024.

Celebrations and Cautious Optimism

The Romanian and Bulgarian governments have hailed this achievement as a triumph of European unity. Business leaders also anticipate significant economic benefits from streamlined travel for tourism and trade.

While partial integration remains a point of contention, the overall mood is one of progress and the realization of both nations’ long-held ambitions.

Key Points:

  • Romania and Bulgaria now have borderless air and sea travel within the Schengen Area.
  • Land border entry is still under review, with a target for full integration by the end of 2024.
  • This is seen as a significant step in bolstering freedom of movement and economic ties within the EU.
Romania and Bulgaria join Schengen Area - boader

Romania’s Long and Arduous Road to Schengen Membership

Despite initially meeting all technical requirements for accession in 2011, Romania’s integration into the EU’s Schengen Area—the world’s largest passport-free travel zone—faced a protracted and politically fraught battle. Today’s partial entry into the Schengen system highlights both the hurdles Romania overcame and those it must still overcome to achieve full membership.

Early Optimism to Obstacles

When Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the assumption was that Schengen membership would be a swift formality. Together with Bulgaria, Romania fulfilled all the technical criteria for admission by 2011, involving extensive investment in border security, data sharing, and compliance with EU legal standards.

However, political objections within the EU blocked their advancement. Some member states, particularly the Netherlands, expressed concerns about corruption and organized crime within Romania. Despite repeated affirmations of progress from the European Commission, these concerns created a lingering climate of distrust and political obstruction.

The Migration Factor

The 2015 migrant crisis further complicated Romania’s Schengen bid. Fears around uncontrolled migration into Europe made some EU nations hesitant to expand the borderless zone. Austria became a vocal opponent, citing Romania’s border with non-EU countries as a potential vulnerability for irregular migration.

Romania vehemently countered these claims, arguing that they had invested heavily in border management and met all security requirements. Nonetheless, the political fallout from the migration crisis strengthened opposition to Romania’s inclusion.

A Victory, However Partial

Years of diplomatic efforts and demonstrated commitment to EU standards resulted in a breakthrough in late 2023. The European Council unanimously agreed to grant Romania and Bulgaria partial accession to the Schengen Area. While this move was widely celebrated, Austria’s continued opposition to including land borders dampened the full extent of Romanian success.

The Road Ahead

Romania’s current entrance to the Schengen system for air and sea travel is an undeniable victory. However, the fight for full membership is far from over. Romanian leaders must continue demonstrating robust border controls and addressing any lingering concerns from Austria. The expectation remains that Romania could realize full Schengen access by the end of 2024.

Implications and Legacy

Romania’s struggle to join the Schengen Area highlights the complex interplay of security concerns, political agendas, and the enduring challenges of European integration. While a clear-cut technical process on paper, the path to free movement within the EU can be fraught with political hurdles and questions of trust. Romania’s experience serves as both a cautionary tale and a case study in persistence for future candidates seeking Schengen membership.

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