Bulgaria and Romania partially joined Schengen after a thirteen-year wait

Roberta Metsola @EP_President

For over a decade, Bulgaria and Romania have been working towards becoming members of the Schengen area. In 2011, the Commission confirmed that both countries met all requirements to be fully part of the Schengen area, which is one of the most essential achievements for EU citizens. The Schengen area allows for free movement of people without internal border controls and significantly benefits Europe’s economy. 

On March 31st, after a thirteen-year wait, Bulgaria and Romania joined Europe’s Schengen area of free movement, allowing them to travel freely by air and sea without border checks. 

However, Austria’s veto made the two countries’ Schengen membership partial, as it only applies to air and sea routes and not to land routes. Austria argued that a full membership would lead to more asylum seekers travelling into Europe. 

Despite this, the Commission strongly welcomed this achievement, which follows the historic Council decision of December 2023. The Schengen accession of these two Member States will make the common area more attractive by significantly expanding the world’s largest common area without internal border controls.

“Tomorrow marks an important day: Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen family. I welcome the lifting of internal air and sea border checks. This is a great success for both countries. And a historic moment for the Schengen area – the largest area of free movement in the world. Together, we are building a stronger, more united Europe for all our citizens,” President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated. 

Since December of last year, Bulgaria and Romania have taken all necessary measures to ensure a smooth application of the Schengen rules from March 31st, 2024. 

Earlier this March, the Commission launched Cooperation Frameworks with Bulgaria and Romania, building on the success of pilot projects for fast asylum and return procedures. With these frameworks, the two countries will further contribute to strengthening cooperation on border and migration, as well as to joint European efforts to address EU security at external borders and migratory challenges. Furthermore, member states along the Western Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean routes, including Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Greece, Hungary, and Slovakia, established a regional initiative on police cooperation. This initiative will allow for the joint and sustainable addressing of related challenges, including cross-border crime. 

Bulgaria and Romania have continuously demonstrated a high level of commitment to ensuring adequate protection of the EU external borders and have acted as key contributors to the internal security of the Schengen area. 

“From today, Bulgaria and Romania will fully apply the Schengen acquis, making the EU stronger and safer with better protection of our external borders, changing the lives of millions, and making travel easier. I am so proud of the work done by so many in both Romania and Bulgaria. Today internal border controls will be lifted at air borders and sea borders. The next step is lifting checks also at internal land borders. Discussion in Council will continue this year. And I promise this is the priority for the end of my mandate,” Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs, said.

The Council must decide on a date for the lifting of checks at internal land borders between Bulgaria, Romania, and the other Schengen countries. The Commission will continue to provide all necessary support to the Council’s Presidency to ensure that a land-borders decision can be taken in 2024.

“Romania, Bulgaria, welcome to the Schengen Area! Today is a historic day—for the people of Romania and Bulgaria and for all Europeans. Let’s continue to move closer together for a united, safe, and more secure Europe,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola posted on X.

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