The European Council has decided to extend the borderless Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania, the Spanish Presidency of the Council announced on Saturday.
Air and sea border controls will be lifted from March 2024, and discussions on lifting land border controls will continue into the new year, according to a European Commission statement.
“An enlarged Schengen area will make the EU stronger as a Union, both internally and on the global stage,” the Commission said, welcoming the two countries.
The Schengen area currently allows unrestricted travel across a territory of 26 countries (including 22 EU countries) and includes more than 400 million citizens, making it the largest free movement area in the world, according to the Commission.
The decision to add Bulgaria and Romania was unanimously approved by the European Council, the Commission also said, stressing that it had sent several “fact-finding missions” in 2022 and 2023 to the external borders of these countries to confirm their willingness to join Schengen.
European Council President Charles Michel sent his congratulations to Romania and Bulgaria via great freedom of movement in view of future land transport.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the decision “a historic moment for Bulgaria and Romania. And a day of great pride for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens… This is a big step forward for both countries and for the Schengen area as a whole.”
Romania and Bulgaria also welcomed the decision, with Romanian Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu writing on X that it is an “important result for Romanian citizens.” Our thanks to all EU partners and institutions for their support. Romania remains committed to a strong and secure Schengen area.”
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis echoed his foreign minister’s comments, saying on X that it was “an important step for the benefit of the Romanian people.”
Meanwhile, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mariya Gabriel said on X that “today Schengen is becoming stronger with Bulgaria and Romania.”
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