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Romania, Bulgaria set to partially enter Schengen zone in March

Romania, Bulgaria set to partially enter Schengen zone in March

by host

Romania and Bulgaria will join the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone for air and sea travel in March 2024, while an opening of land borders will be discussed in the coming year, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu announced Wednesday.

“We have a political agreement on this!” Ciolacu said in a social media post. “From March next year, Romanians will enjoy the benefits of the Schengen area by air and sea.”

Ciolacu also expressed optimism regarding a future agreement on land borders, saying he was “convinced” those negotiations would come to fruition in 2024.

Austria had previously opposed the Romania and Bulgaria’s inclusion in the Schengen zone due to concerns over illegal immigration. In mid December, however, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner announced a softening of Vienna’s stance, offering passport-free travel by plane from those countries in exchange for tighter border security measures.

Romanian, Austrian and Bulgarian authorities ultimately reached a political agreement on partial entry into the Schengen zone on December 23, Romania’s interior ministry said in a statement Wednesday. Applying Schengen rules to Romania’s land border would come “in close connection with the compensatory measures regarding the strengthening of border control and the application of the Dublin Agreement,” the ministry said.

Critics had previously said that Vienna’s opposition to Romania and Bulgaria’s inclusion in the Schengen zone was fueled by domestic political concerns over immigration, and warned this would weaken the EU and fuel skepticism of the bloc in Eastern Europe.

Austria’s conservative-led coalition government has been under pressure to take a harder stance on immigration amid a sharp rise in popularity for the far-right Freedom Party in polls.

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