Decaffeinated accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen area

Bulgaria and Romania After a 13-year wait, they partially joined the borderless Schengen area this Sunday. This means that from now on controls at air and sea borders will be lifted, but controls at land points will continue.

This staggered entry is due to the veto of Austria, which has rejected a total exemption from controls, since these two countries are not doing enough to control migration flows and therefore a wave of asylum seekers is possible.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and their entry into the European borderless area, although not complete, has a high symbolic value, as it represents a further step towards their integration into the European club, which has been delayed longer than expected. In 2011, the European Commission concluded that the two countries were ready to join Schengen because they met the technical requirements, but European capitals disagreed and blocked the move all these years.

In December 2022, the Interior Ministers of the Twenty-Seven gave the green light for Croatia to join the European borderless area from January 1, 2023, but rejected the applications of Romania and Bulgaria, even though Croatia had joined the community club in 2013, six years after the two above mentioned countries. At that time, Holland also joined Austria’s veto. In her last State of the Union speech to the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (France), which marks the start of the political course in September, the President of the European Commission herself, Ursula von de Die Leyen, called for the immediate entry of these two Countries. Among other things, there was a fear in the municipal corridors that a new “no” vote on the eve of the European elections in June would give wings to Eurosceptic parties. “Today Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen family. I welcome the lifting of controls at internal air and sea borders. This is a great success for the people of both countries. Millions of EU citizens across Europe also benefit from this. Further strengthen the Schengen area“, the Commission President congratulated herself.

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Before the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the Schengen area consisted of 27 countries, including 23 members of the European Union while four others do not belong to the club: Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Ireland and Cyprusare the only two countries within the 27 that are not part of the Schengen area.

The biggest beneficiaries of this partial entry are travelers arriving from the 18 airports in Romania and the four in Bulgaria, and this decision is expected to help boost air traffic in the two countries.

“In these months of 2024, Romanian airports expect about 14 million passengers traveling within the Schengen zone, representing 70% of traffic. “The dynamic growth of air traffic in our region means that the number will reach 21 million passengers in 2015,” Romanian Airports Association President David Ciceo said in a statement. Currently the average number of air travelers in these two countries is below the Community average. While this value is 1.69% in the EU, it is 0.87% in Bulgaria and 0.60% in Romania.

Nevertheless, the greatest impact is expected to come with full entry into borderless space as of now 39.3% of Romanian freight transport It takes place on the road and in Bulgaria this proportion is up to 91%. Border controls slow down trade within the community club (truck drivers have to wait in queues of up to seven or eight hours), which could increase significantly with entry into the Schengen area. According to the Romanian government, the country loses up to 0.5% of GDP due to these border controls.

Negotiations on the two countries’ full accession to the Schengen area will continue in the coming months, although there are fears that the rise of the far right in Austria will not make it easier to lift land border controls in the next parliamentary election in October.

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