Romania and Bulgaria to join Schengen border-free zone by air and sea


Cars at the Bulgarian border with Greece
Image caption,Talks are still going on to end checks like these on the Bulgarian border with Greece

By Robert Greenall

BBC News

Romania and Bulgaria are to join Europe’s Schengen border-free zone by air and sea by March, officials from the two countries have announced.

Austria had objected to expanding the zone, fearing more illegal immigration, but later agreed the two Balkan states could enter the zone in stages.

Talks will continue next year on opening land borders.

There are currently 27 countries in the Schengen area, which allows 400 million people to move freely between them.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 and have been trying to enter Schengen for more than 10 years.

Their full entry to the zone would leave Ireland and Cyprus as the only EU countries outside it.

Romania’s Interior Ministry said in a statement released late on Wednesday that agreement was reached on 23 December.

And Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said on Facebook: “After 13 years, finally Romania will join Schengen! We have a political agreement on this!”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov also confirmed the deal at a year-end government meeting.

Austrian officials have said only that negotiations are continuing.

Vienna vetoed Schengen’s expansion in 2022 but earlier this month relaxed its position, putting forward the idea of “Air Schengen” as a precursor to the opening of land borders.

It said it was prepared to allow a relaxation in the rules for air travel for the two countries if Brussels took steps to strengthen the EU’s external borders.

Austria’s ruling People’s Party has taken a tough line on immigration under pressure from the far-right Freedom Party, which is currently ahead in the polls.

Map showing countries in the Schengen zone

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