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Challenges and Progress: Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen Journey

Concerns regarding irregular migration have prompted the delay of Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the Schengen Zone by 11 years. However, this setback isn't expected to hinder their land border accession, according to statements from the European Commission and Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Challenges and Progress: Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen Journey

While airports and sea ports in both countries will enjoy streamlined procedures with the abolition of passport controls for air and sea travel starting March 31, passport controls will persist at land borders. Despite the absence of a specific date for enlarging land borders, irregular migration concerns are not cited as the reason.

Both the European Commission and Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have confirmed that there are no new conditions for Schengen access by land, including migrant quotas. They reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to adhere to the Dublin Regulation, an EU law determining responsibilities among EU countries for processing applications from third-country nationals seeking international protection in the bloc.

Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized Bucharest's consistent fulfillment of its obligations under the Dublin Regulation and its active role in negotiations on the Pact on Asylum and Migration.

Austria's veto in December 2022, citing concerns over irregular migration, has been a hurdle to Bulgaria and Romania's membership. While Austria's Air Schengen Proposal allows partial accession for air and sea travel by the end of this month, it continues to veto their land border accession. However, Austria’s Interior Minister, Gerhard Karner, highlighted broader concerns about the migration system's catastrophic situation.


Despite challenges, both Bulgaria and Romania have intensified efforts to combat migration effectively. In 2023, Romania’s immigration authorities deported 1,222 individuals, while Bulgarian authorities detained 2,528 third-country citizens attempting to leave the country. Authorities in Sofia apprehended 1,729 irregular migrants at the border with Turkey, preventing over 178,200 attempts of irregular border crossings in the Turkish-Bulgarian region. Additionally, the number of irregular migrants at Bulgaria’s border with Greece decreased by 86 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022.

In March 2023, the two countries implemented pilot projects aimed at improving the management of the migration situation, focusing on expediting asylum and return procedures. The Commission reported substantial progress six months later as a result of these initiatives. In June last year, the Commission allocated additional funding of €45 million to Bulgaria and €10.8 million to Romania to enhance their border capabilities.

Remaining outside the Schengen Area has resulted in significant financial losses for both Balkan countries. Businesses in Bulgaria have suffered at least €1 billion in losses due to stoppages at land borders, while a report by the National Union of Road Hauliers from Romania (UNTRR) noted €2.41 billion in losses for the road freight industry due to remaining outside the passport-free travel zone.

Austrian economist and politician Gunther Fehlinger emphasized Bulgaria and Romania's readiness for full Schengen accession, including land borders, by May 1, 2024. He stressed rejecting any new conditions for accession and called for Austria to lift its veto.

The Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, recently stated that after the elections for the European Parliament, he expects Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen Zone in terms of land borders.

Full implementation of Schengen regulations, effective March 31, will allow Bulgaria and Romania to issue multiple-entry visas valid for up to five years. The 90/180-day rule will apply directly to both countries, regardless of the type of border entry.

Meetings of the Schengen Council in 2024 will provide opportunities to discuss lifting controls at land borders, with evidence from the Schengen Barometer and State of Schengen Report informing decision-making. This comprehensive approach aims to address concerns while facilitating smoother border operations for Bulgaria and Romania.



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