Romania and Bulgaria will join the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone for air and sea travel in March 2024, while the opening of land borders will be discussed next year, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu announced on Wednesday.
“We have a political agreement on this! » » Ciolacu said in a post on social media. “Starting from March next year, Romanians will enjoy the benefits of the Schengen area by air and sea.”
Ciolacu also expressed optimism about a future agreement on land borders, saying he was “convinced” that these negotiations would be successful in 2024.
Austria had previously opposed the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen zone due to concerns over illegal immigration. However, in mid-December, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner announced a softening of Vienna’s stance, offering passport-free air travel from these countries in exchange for stricter border security measures.
The Romanian, Austrian and Bulgarian authorities finally reached a political agreement on December 23 on partial entry into the Schengen zone, the Romanian Interior Ministry said in a press release on Wednesday. The application of Schengen rules at Romania’s land border would be “closely linked to the compensatory measures concerning the strengthening of border controls and the application of the Dublin agreement”, the ministry said.
Critics had previously said Vienna’s opposition to the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen zone was fueled by domestic political concerns over immigration, and warned it would weaken the EU and fuel skepticism towards the bloc in Eastern Europe.
Austria’s conservative-led coalition government is under pressure to take a tougher stance on immigration amid a sharp rise in popularity of the far-right Freedom Party in polls.