In a significant development, the European Council has announced that Romania and Bulgaria will experience a partial integration into the Schengen area of free movement starting March 2024.
Having been EU members since 2007, Romania and Bulgaria faced rejection from the extensive Schengen zone in 2022. The rejection stemmed from concerns raised by Austria, which contended that it bore an undue burden of hosting undocumented immigrants due to inadequately protected external Schengen borders.
However, in a unanimous decision on Saturday, all 27 EU member states agreed to remove controls at the air and sea borders of Romania and Bulgaria from March 31, 2024, as revealed in a statement from the European Council. Discussions regarding the opening of land borders are slated to continue in the coming year.
The European Commission expressed its satisfaction with the partial inclusion of the two countries into the Schengen area after a protracted 12-year negotiation period. Emphasizing the strengthened unity it brings to the EU, the Commission stated, “An enlarged Schengen area will make the EU stronger as a Union, internally and on the global stage.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, hailed the development as a “historic moment” in a social media post. She lauded Bulgaria and Romania, stating, “Today is a day of great pride for Bulgaria and Romania. They both deserve it. They will make Schengen even stronger.”
The Schengen area, established in 1985, currently comprises 23 of the 27 EU member states and includes associated neighbors Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.