1703973632 The EU agrees to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria

The EU agrees to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area

The EU agrees to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria

Romania and Bulgaria will become members of the Schengen area in a few months. Twelve years after the start of the accession process to the European free movement zone and just a few hours before the end of Spain's rotating EU Council Presidency this Sunday, the states unanimously agreed this Saturday on the “full integration” of the two countries to this territory with more than 400 million people without passport controls, which will now grow from 27 to 29 members. However, the process will be carried out “gradually” from March. This month it will come into force at air and sea borders, while land borders will be postponed until later.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has celebrated a decision that both countries “deserve” because they “worked hard” for it and which, above all, “will make Schengen even stronger,” as she explained Twitter). “It is a day of great pride for Bulgaria and Romania,” he stressed.

The decision became possible after Austria lifted its year-long veto – when another candidate country, Croatia's entry into Schengen was approved at a meeting of EU interior ministers that became official on January 1 – due to concerns over immigration issues . Vienna, which was then supported by the Netherlands, claimed that irregular migration, one of the issues on which the government of Chancellor Karl Nehammer takes a very tough stance, remained too high in neighboring countries, especially Bulgaria, to accept a lifting of all border controls. And this despite the fact that both states have been members of the EU since 2007 and have been knocking on Schengen doors for years.

The Austrians' change of mind came after “intensive negotiations” in recent weeks between Austria, Bulgaria and Romania with the support of the European Commission and the Spanish EU Council Presidency, which described the agreement as “fair and historic” Saturday.

As agreed, the process will begin in March 2024, when controls at the internal “air and sea” borders will be lifted. From there, negotiations begin between Vienna, Sofia and Bucharest about when the land borders will also be lifted. The agreement reached is limited to stating that the three countries undertake to “agree on the date of repeal in 2024”.

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Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson also welcomed a decision that, as she stressed on social networks, must now be tightened to “ensure that freedom of movement by land is guaranteed next year.” The Commissioner, who strongly defends this step now taken, has promised to continue to “actively support” the process of full access to Schengen in 2024.

The approval of the 27 Community states was expected as Bulgaria and Romania announced this week that they had reached an agreement with Austria, which that country also confirmed. At a press conference on Thursday, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and Romanian Foreign Minister and former EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said they had reached an agreement with Vienna on December 23 to lift its veto. Austria had begun to reverse its clear no after the two countries agreed on measures to strengthen their external borders, leading Vienna to propose a gradual entry of both countries into the Schengen area, in which Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karn described it as follows : “Air Schengen”.

Although Romania and Bulgaria lie on one of the main routes for illegal arms, drugs and human trafficking, the European Commission has long held that both countries meet all the conditions for joining the Schengen area. After Austria and the Netherlands' veto became known in December 2022, EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson publicly expressed her displeasure. “The citizens of Bulgaria and Romania deserve to be fully part of the Schengen area,” he declared after the meeting of ministers of the sector, in which Croatia became the twentieth EU member to join this area of ​​freedom of movement without travel restrictions was approved. People, goods, services and capital – the largest in the world – which also includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Currently, the external borders of the Schengen area, an agreement signed in 1985 in the eponymous city of Luxembourg and entered into force a decade later, stretch over 50,000 kilometers. 80% of these borders are maritime borders and the remaining 20% ​​are land borders. Within the Schengen area there are hundreds of airports and seaports as well as several land crossing points covering an area of ​​4.3 million square kilometers and a population of more than 400 million. The 27 participating countries – 29 after the end of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria – apply common rules for the control of external borders as well as visas and cooperation between police and judiciary in the criminal area.

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