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Tuesday May 21, 2024

Bulgaria, Romania partially join EU’s visa-free Schengen zone

Despite the partial membership, the lifting of controls at the two countries’ air and sea borders is of significant symbolic value.

By Reuters
April 01, 2024
Travelers walk next to newly installed signs pointing to Schengen and non-Schengen areas minutes after midnight, just after Romanias official entry into the European area of free circulation at Otopenis Henri Coanda international airport on March 31, 2024. — AFP
Travelers walk next to newly installed signs pointing to Schengen and non-Schengen areas minutes after midnight, just after Romania's official entry into the European area of free circulation at Otopeni's "Henri Coanda" international airport on March 31, 2024. — AFP

SOFIA: Bulgaria and Romania joined Europe’s vast Schengen area of free movement on Sunday, opening up travel by air and sea without border checks after a 13-year wait.

A veto by Austria however means the new status will not apply to land routes, after Vienna expressed concerns over a potential influx of asylum seekers.

Despite the partial membership, the lifting of controls at the two countries’ air and sea borders is of significant symbolic value.

Admission to Schengen is an “important milestone” for Bulgaria and Romania, symbolising a “question of dignity, of belonging to the European Union”, according to foreign policy analyst Stefan Popescu.

“Any Romanian who had to walk down a lane separate from other European citizens felt being treated differently,” he said.

Ivan Petrov, a 35-year-old Bulgarian marketing executive who lives in France, said he was enthusiastic about less stressful travelling and the time he would be able to save.

“This is a great success for both countries, and a historic moment for the Schengen area -- the largest area of free movement in the world,” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement on Saturday.