Romania, Bulgaria to Join Schengen Zone in March 2024
Romania and Bulgaria are set to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone for air and sea travel in March 2024. Austria was initially hesitant about the two Balkan countries joining the zone because of concerns over illegal immigration. But it agreed in mid-December when assured that there would be tighter border security measures.
Romania’s interior ministry said a political agreement on partial entry into the Schengen zone was reached on December 23. It said applying Schengen rules to Romania’s land border would come in close connection with the compensatory measures – strengthening of border control and application of the Dublin Agreement.
Marcel Ciolacu, Romanian Prime Minister, is confident that negotiations for land borders will also be finished positively in 2024. “From March, Romanians will benefit from Schengen advantages on air and sea routes. I am convinced that in 2024 we will finish negotiations for land borders as well.” Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov welcomed the decision. “After long, complicated negotiations, we reached an agreement in principle with Austria on the admission of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Area, initially for air and sea borders.”
What is the Schengen Zone?
The Schengen Zone, which covers over 4 million square kilometers with a population of around 420 million people including 27 countries, is an area without internal border controls. It came to be in 1985 as an intergovernmental project between five European countries – France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Schengen Zone has gradually expanded, now with 27 of the member countries.
In this zone, member countries do not carry out checks at their internal borders, except in case of specific security threats. But there are checks and controls at external borders. There are economic benefits for the citizens and businesses. More than 400 million people can travel freely between the member countries, without the tiresome process of border controls and checks.
Hungary Has Romania’s Back
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in November that Romania’s Schengen accession is one of the key priorities of Hungarian neighborhood policy. He said Budapest will utilize its position as Council president in 2024 to finalize the process.
“Romania becoming a member of the Schengen Area is a clear national interest of Hungary. Romania is Hungary’s second-largest export market; its Schengen membership will obviously make our economic and trade relations much stronger.”