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Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

After 13 years of anticipation, Bulgaria and Romania are set to take their initial steps into Europe’s expansive Schengen area of free movement, commencing on Sunday. This move, hailed as “historic,” will facilitate travel by air and sea without the hindrance of border checks, marking a significant advancement in regional integration.

While this accession represents progress, land border controls will persist due to Austria’s apprehension regarding the potential influx of asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the elimination of controls at air and sea borders carries substantial symbolic weight, signifying a step towards equality and belonging within the European Union.

Foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu underscores the significance of Schengen membership for Bulgaria and Romania, describing it as an “important milestone” that addresses questions of dignity and European identity. The removal of separate lanes for citizens underscores a sense of equality long awaited by citizens of both countries.

The inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania brings the total number of Schengen members to 29, comprising 25 EU member states, along with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. The Romanian government outlines the application of Schengen rules to four sea ports and 17 airports, with Otopeni airport serving as a pivotal hub.

While celebrations abound, challenges remain, particularly for truck drivers grappling with prolonged border queues. Transport unions in Romania decry substantial financial losses incurred due to extended waiting times, highlighting the urgency of full Schengen integration.

In response to concerns raised by various sectors, officials from both countries emphasize the irreversibility of the integration process. Romanian Interior Minister Catalin Predoiu reaffirms the commitment to completing the integration by 2024, including the extension to land borders, underscoring the determination to forge ahead despite obstacles.

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