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An airport employee installing new information signs at Henri Coanda Airport in Romania on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo
Schengen

Romania and Bulgaria set to join the EU's visa-free zone tomorrow

The decision to allow the two EU member states to join the Schengen was approved towards the end of last year.

ROMANIA AND BULGARIA are set to join the European Union’s (EU) visa-free ‘Schengen’ zone tomorrow as some of their own border restrictions will expire.

The decision to allow the two EU member states to join the Schengen, which Ireland has opted-out of since its was established, was approved by the European Commission towards the end of last year.

Tomorrow, air and sea restrictions will lift as part of the two states’ first steps to enter the bloc’s free-movement area. Discussions on lifting controls at the countries’ land borders will continue throughout this year.

Romania and Bulgaria’s accession into the Schengen is said to boost travel, trade and tourism in both countries and the EU hopes it will strengthen and consolidate the internal market.

According to the Romanian government, Schengen rules will apply to four sea ports and 17 airports, with the country’s Otopeni airport near the capital Bucharest serving as the biggest hub for Schengen flights.

More staff ranging from border police to immigration officers will be deployed to airports to “support passengers and detect those who want to take advantage to leave Romania illegally,” the government said.

Random checks will also be carried out to expose people with false documents and combat human trafficking, including of minors.

The European Commission previously launched pilot projects with Romania and Bulgaria in March 2023, to boost external border management, reinforce cooperation with neighbouring countries and ensure fast asylum and return procedures.

The EU’s executive branch has also carried out a number of fact-finding missions in order to establish that both members were suitable to join and had fulfilled the strict criterias.

Bulgaria and Romania both hope to fully integrate into Schengen by the end of the year, but fellow member state Austria has so far only relented about allowing them to join by air and sea.

The Austrian Government has opposed previous decisions on lifting land borderer over concerns that doing so in eastern European countries will lead to an influx of asylum seekers.

Despite that, the decision to lift controls at the two countries’ air and sea borders is of significant symbolic value, as both states have waited nearly 13 years for the move to be approved.

Admission to Schengen is an important milestone for Bulgaria and Romania and is symbolic of “question of dignity, of belonging to the European Union” according to foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu.

“Any Romanian who had to walk down a lane separate from other European citizens felt being treated differently,” he told the AFP news agency.

Croatia was the last member state to join Schengen, after its accession to the Union in January 2023.

Created in 1985, more than 400 million people can travel freely inside the Schengen area without internal border controls.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024

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