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Airports: Schengen “light” for Bulgaria and Romania

Airports: Schengen “light” for Bulgaria and Romania

At midnight (11 pm CET) entry controls at airports and passenger cargo were initially lifted in Bulgaria and Romania. However, surveillance operations continue on roads at national borders. This affects private travel and the transport of goods by truck, for example via Hungary and Greece.

At the end of December, European Union countries agreed to the partial accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen Area. Austria in particular prohibits the abolition of controls on land borders.

The main argument for the Balkan Route

The government justifies its position by the large number of irregular entries via the Balkan route. At the beginning of March, Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that there was still no “concrete timetable” for Romania’s desired full accession to the Schengen Area.

AP/Andrea Alexandru

“Welcome to the Schengen Area” – but for now only in the air and on the water

In principle, the Schengen Area aims to ensure the free movement of people in Europe. It currently includes 25 of the 27 EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Romania and Bulgaria have been waiting to join the Schengen Area since 2011. Personal examinations are only carried out in exceptional cases and after the approval of the European Union.

The goal is full accession “as quickly as possible.”

A few weeks ago, Bulgaria and Romania once again spoke in favor of ending fixed border controls, including on land routes, and explicitly expressed this desire to Austria. “We will continue the dialogue with the Austrian partners and other member states as well as with the EU Commission,” Romanian Foreign Minister Luminita Odebescu said at the time.

Her Bulgarian counterpart, Maria Gabriel, stressed that joint efforts between the two countries should continue in 2024. The goal is for both countries to obtain a date “as soon as possible” to abolish controls on land borders.

The timeline is not quite set yet

At the beginning of March, Chancellor Nehammer met with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest for discussions on the issue of expanding the Schengen Area. It was then said that there was still no timetable for full accession and that the main topic of discussions was the protection of the EU's external borders. But there was also talk of a “good timetable.”

It was said at the time that the decisive issue for Nehammer was the issue of protecting external borders. Romania registers 50 percent fewer asylum applications than Austria. “This means that we still bear the brunt as a landlocked country. We must constantly think about how to efficiently combat illegal migration routes, that is, smugglers. The further timeline will depend on that,” the Chancellor said, stressing that protecting external borders is not working. Enough, otherwise many EU countries would not implement internal border controls.

At the moment “Air Schengen”

In February, Iohannis called the lower version of the agreement, “Air Schengen,” as it is often referred to, a first step and a “good sign.” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was convinced that Romania and Bulgaria would soon become full members of the Schengen Area: “You can count on us to further strengthen the borders and convince Austria that Romania and Bulgaria are worth it.” She confirmed this in a press conference in early February.

Von der Leyen stressed that “the European Union Commission has been convinced for years that Romania and Bulgaria are ready for the Schengen Agreement.” In recent months, the Union has implemented some EU-funded projects to reinforce borders in Romania and Bulgaria and send fact-finding missions on the ground. This convinced Austria to “take the first steps towards Air Schengen and Sea Schengen”. But to get full membership, just wait for now.

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