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Bulgaria, Romania part-join Schengen zone

| 2024-04-01 2 min read

Bulgaria, Romania part-join Schengen zone

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Romania and Bulgaria partly entered the Schengen free movement zone at midnight Sunday, 31 March, meaning air travel and freight, and sea freight in and out of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries no longer requires document control.

The two countries’ partial Schengen membership does not include land routes due to Austria’s veto of the two CEE countries’ full membership, which cited concerns over asylum seekers but loosened its stance late last year. Bulgaria and Romania hope to fully join Schengen by the year-end.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen wrote: “Today, Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen family. I welcome the lifting of internal air and sea border checks. This is a great success for the people of both countries. It also benefits millions of EU citizens across Europe. Making the Schengen area even stronger.”

Austria last to accept Romania, first to arrive

The first full flight into Romania from the Schengen area was from Vienna, an irony noted by National Airport Company spokesperson Valentin Iordache. Schengen rules will apply to 17 airports and 4 seaports in Romania. “After more than a decade since it met all the technical conditions, Romania entered the Schengen area with air and sea borders,” local media recalled.

Hauliers in Romania are now pushing for full Schengen membership, frustrated by long border queues, costing billions. According to the hauliers, lorries wait 8-16 hours at the Hungary border, and 20-30 hours to enter Bulgaria. This represents around a third of the total goods transiting Romania.

The Romanian government said it will up the presence of border police and immigration officers at airports to “detect those who want to take advantage to leave Romania illegally”. Random checks will also be carried out.

Bulgaria less happy with partial membership

Bulgarian entrepreneurs noted that 97% of Bulgarian goods are transported by land. “We don’t know when we’ll be there with the other 97%,” Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association head Vasil Velev told news agency AFP.

Schengen was created in 1985, and now allows around 400mn to traverse the area without internal border controls. With its 2 new entrants, the Schengen zone now comprises 25 EU members, plus Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Croatia became Schengen’s 27th entrant last January.