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Passengers at the Henri Coanda International Airport pass under a Schengen Information sign, in Otopeni, near Bucharest, Romania today. Alamy Stock Photo
Free Travel Zone

Romania and Bulgaria join Schengen area for air and sea border crossings in 'historic' EU move

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the change as a “huge success for both countries”.

ROMANIA AND BULGARIA have partially joined Europe’s free travel area, marking a new step in the two countries’ integration with the European Union.

After years of negotiations to join the Schengen area, there is now free access for travellers arriving by air or sea. Land border checks will remain in place, however, due to opposition primarily from Austria, which has long blocked their bid over migration concerns.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the change as a “huge success for both countries” and a “historic moment” for what is the world’s largest free travel zone.

In a post on X (Twitter), von der Leyen added that the new arrangements would make the Schengen area “even stronger”. 

EU Parliament leader Roberta Metsola said: “Today is a historic day – for the people of Romania and Bulgaria and for all Europeans. Let’s continue to move closer together for a united, safe, and more secure Europe”. 

EU council President Charles Michel said: “This will boost travel, trade and tourism and will further strengthen our EU internal market.”

The Schengen area was established in 1985 and before Bulgaria and Romania’s admission, it was comprised of 23 of the 27 EU member countries, along with non-members Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Around 3.5 million people cross an internal border each day.

Ireland is not part of the Schengen area and a Schengen visa or residence permit does not entitle someone to travel to Ireland without a visa.

Austria vetoed Romania and Bulgaria’s admission into the Schengen zone at the end of 2022 but allowed Croatia full accession. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 and Croatia followed in 2013.

Siegfried Muresan, a Romanian member of the European Parliament, said today’s move was “an important first step” that would benefit millions of travellers annually.

“Bulgaria and Romania have been fulfilling all criteria for joining the Schengen area for years – we are entitled to join with the terrestrial border as well,” he said, adding it “will offer additional arguments to the last EU member state that has been vetoing the full accession”.

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu called it a “well-deserved achievement” for Romania that he said will benefit citizens who can travel more easily and will bolster the economy.

“We have a clear and firmly assumed government plan for full accession to the Schengen area by the end of the year,” he added.

The European Commission has said for more than a decade that Romania and Bulgaria both meet the technical criteria for full accession, which requires unanimous support from their partners. Both countries have agreed to implement random security screening at airports and maritime borders to combat illegal migration and cross-border crime.

While lifting border controls on air and sea ports is expected to positively impact the tourism sector, members of the European Parliament have voiced concerns about long queues at the EU’s land borders and the impact it can have on trade in the bloc’s single market, as well as the health and safety of drivers.

Truck drivers are frequently stuck in miles-long queues at the borders of both Romania and Bulgaria. The Union of International Carriers in Bulgaria estimates delays cost the sector tens of millions each year.

Includes reporting from Press Association

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