Bulgaria, Romania to join Schengen area

2024-01-01 22:47:52China Daily Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

Bulgaria and Romania will become members of the passport-free Schengen area starting in March 2024, according to an agreement reached by the Council of the European Union on Saturday night. 

Under the agreement, the air and sea borders between the two countries and other Schengen members will be opened in March while a discussion on lifting the land border controls will continue in 2024.

The agreement was achieved under the Spanish presidency of the Council of EU which ended on Dec 31 after Austria dropped its veto. Austria has long opposed the move for fear of an influx of illegal immigrants.

"I am very pleased that in 2024 air and maritime internal controls between Bulgaria and Romania and the other Schengen countries will become a thing of the past, after 12 years of negotiations," said Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

"A long-awaited step for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens to enjoy easier freedom of movement with the perspective of land transport to come," European Council President Charles Michel said in a congratulatory message on X, formerly Twitter.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it "a historic moment" for the two countries and "a day of great pride for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens".

The commission first confirmed that both countries were ready to be part of the Schengen area without internal border controls in 2011. It said that discussions on a date for possible lifting of the checks on persons at internal land borders will continue in 2024 and a decision by the EU Council is expected to be taken within "a reasonable time frame".

The Schengen area started in 1985 as an intergovernmental project between five EU member states — France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. It has since become the largest area of free movement in the world to include 27 countries covering 420 million people in an area of 4 million square kilometers.

The participation by Bulgaria and Romania will increase the member states to 29 with a population of 450 million in an area of 4.5 million square kilometers. The two countries joined the EU in 2007.

Romania has long argued that not being in the Schengen area caused annual GDP losses of 25 billion euros ($27.6 billion) for the country. Bulgarian Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said on Nov 2 that the country's entry into Schengen would automatically lead to an economic growth of 3 percent due to the removal of border barriers.

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