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Bulgaria and Romania, one foot in the Schengen area

After 13 years of waiting, here they are! finally in the Schengen area. Romania and Bulgaria have officially entered the world. midnight local time (10:00 p.m.  GMT) in this vast free movement zone,   the notable exception of land borders.

At Sofia airport in Bulgaria, the first departing passengers were delighted on Sunday morning.

“I travel often and that makes things easier,” explained Kristina Markova, 35, enthusiastically. “Baggage control included, we were able to reach the terminal in less than three minutes, that's really progress.”

Bulgaria and Romania, one foot in the Schengen area

Romania and Bulgaria partially join the Schengen area © AFP – Sophie RAMIS, Aude GENET

Membership is partial, therefore limited to airports and seaports, but the step has a strong symbolic value as the two countries have been members of the European Union (EU) since 2007.

“This is a great success for them,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

– 29 members now –

Croatia, although it entered the EU after Romania (19 million inhabitants) and Bulgaria (6.5 million), beat them to the punch in January 2023.

With this double entry, this zone created in 1985 in which more than 400 million people can travel without permanent controls at internal borders, will now include 29 members.

Twenty-five of the 27 EU states are part of it, as well as their associated neighbors Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

Finally joining was “a question of dignity”, notes Stefan Popescu, an expert in international relations based in Bucharest. “Every Romanian, when he took a separate line from other European nationals, felt treated differently,” he told AFP.

– Veto de Austria –

In the airport of the Romanian capital, where the majority of flights serve the Schengen area, the teams have been busy all week preparing for this little revolution.

With the promise of increased personnel to carry out unannounced checks, particularly on minors “in order to prevent them from falling prey to human trafficking networks”, according to the government.< /p>

Bulgaria and Romania, one foot in the Schengen area

Travelers pass under the newly installed signals indicating transfers to countries located in the Schengen area, at Otopeni International Airport in Romania, March 31, 2024 © AFP – Daniel MIHAILESCU

The agents deployed will also be there to “guide passengers and identify those who would take advantage of this to leave Romania illegally”.

Big downside: on roads, controls will be maintained for the time being. Blame the veto of Austria, the only refractory country in the EU for fear of an influx of asylum seekers.

Excluded from the process, road hauliers do not take off.

The wait lasts “from 8 to 16 hours” at the border with Hungary, “from 20 to 30 hours with Bulgaria, with peaks of three days” in both cases, lamented one of the main Romanian unions in the sector, deploring colossal “financial losses”.

“We have waited 13 years, we are exhausted”, thundered general secretary Radu Dinescu.

– In Schengen at 3% –

Same rant from border workers who pass by car and Bulgarian bosses.

“3% of Bulgarian goods are transported by air and sea, the remaining 97% circulating by land”, said Vassil Velev, president of the organization BICA (Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association), interviewed by AFP.

“We are therefore at 3% in Schengen and do not know when we will be authorized to join completely”, he lamented.

No date has been given for becoming full members. Because you have to show your credentials to hope to overcome Vienna's reluctance.

The entrepreneur fears paying the price for the legislative elections scheduled for the end of September in Austria, while the chancellor conservative Karl Nehammer must face the rise of the far right in the polls.

“Full membership will depend on foreign political developments”, warned Sunday the Romanian Minister of the Interior Catalin Predoiu, in reference to the Austrian vote.

In any case, both Sofia and Bucharest have warned: there will be no going back.

“The process is irreversible, I am convinced,” said Mr. Predoiu, who calls for it to be completed in 2024.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116